Facebook, one of the most popular online social media and social networking services, has its Community Standards regulating one's presence on the social network. According to those standards, Facebook doesn't allow any organizations that are engaged in terrorist activity or organized criminal activity to have a presence on the network. They also “remove content that expresses support for groups that are involved in the violent or criminal behavior mentioned above. Supporting or praising leaders of those same organizations, or condoning their violent activities, is not allowed.”
Atheist Republic, with 1.6 million likes, is certainly the world’s largest Facebook page for atheists and it has been repeatedly unpublished by Facebook. Actually, it has been shut down at least three times because of multiple groups dedicated to “Report Anti-Islamic Pages.” They use Facebook reporting tools to try to censor atheists and other freethinkers. Ex-Muslims of North America (24,000 members) and 10 other groups, affiliated with nonprofit atheist organizations, were also temporarily blocked from the site. Regardless of whether the Facebook page posts illegal content or not, if enough people flag a page as being harmful or promoting violence or containing illegal content, the page is automatically removed.
Allie Jackson, CEO of Atheist Republic, told in the interview for the New York Observer that her page was restricted and unpublished without any notice. It was the first time such thing happened, although individual posts have been removed before.
“We got messages from anti-Muslim groups saying ‘Your page is back up, I guess we’re gonna have to take you down again,” Jackson said. “I wondered: who is we?” “Most of these people are being thrown out of their homes or threatened with murder,” Jackson added. “We’re there for them. We’re not just a page that posts memes; we talk people off of cliffs.”
Syed, president of Ex-Muslims of North America, has started a Change.org petition in partnership with Atheist Republic urging Facebook to “prevent religious extremists from censoring atheists and secularists.” The petition suggests changes of the algorithms used when people report a page:
Facebook should create a whitelist for Facebook Groups and Facebook Pages which are determined as vulnerable to malicious attacks. Reports and flags aimed at them should not be handled by automated mechanisms but reviewed and given due consideration by a trained Facebook employee.
Atheist Republic, along with nearly 40 secular and atheist organizations, sent a letter to Facebook asking it to improve its reporting system to protect “vulnerable groups” from “online blasphemy laws.” One part of the letter reads: “Due to abuse of Facebook’s reporting tools, atheist and ex-Muslim organizations and groups find themselves yet again the target of censorship campaigns by religious conservatives. We respectfully ask that Facebook create mechanisms to prevent abuse of its features so that our organizations and groups do not fear unjust restriction and removal.”
A spokesperson from Facebook told the company was “very sorry” about the mistake. “The pages were removed in error and restored as soon as we were able to investigate,” the email sent to Observer read. “Our team processes millions of reports each week, and we sometimes get things wrong.”