Is Facebook Deleting Atheist Pages? Yes -- Thanks To Harassment Campaigns By Some Muslim Groups

Facebook has been deleting some atheist pages, leading to heavy criticism of the social media giant and energizing atheists in the North Africa and Middle East region to rally against censorship, the News Hub is reporting.

In February 2016, Facebook deleted 10 Arabic-language Facebook groups devoted to atheism, and this was followed by the closure of six more atheist Facebook groups in April. The closure leaves approximately 100,000 members of those groups in the heavily-Muslim North Africa and the Middle East without a place to commune with one another on the social media giant.

atheist facebook pages
Facebook has shut down over a dozen Arabic-language atheist group pages. [Image via Nagib/Shutterstock]

Interestingly, Facebook has closed the groups not because of interference from any governments in the region, but because of managed campaigns by Islamist groups to convince the social media giant to censor the pages on the basis that they violate so-called "community standards."

Facebook generally doesn't police its content for violations of the so-called "community standards," which, of course, will vary from place to place and culture to culture. Instead, the company relies on user-generated reports of violations. Theoretically, if a post or group gets enough reports of violations, the social media giant will shut the offending content down and delete it.

Some Islamist groups have seized on this process and used campaigns of violation reports to convince Facebook to delete the atheist pages. So-called "cyber jihadists" urge their followers to flood Facebook with reports of violations, in some cases possibly even using automated programs to ("bots") to file reports.

Convincing Facebook to delete atheist groups is part of an ongoing campaign of violence and harassment against atheists in Islam-dominated places such as North Africa and the Middle East. According to a 2012 report in the Economist, the punishment for advocating atheism -- or any religion other than Islam -- can be severe in some Muslim nations throughout North Africa and the Middle East. Even in places that do not legally prohibit atheism as a matter of law, former Muslims who have turned to atheism can still be victims of harassment and violence.

"Alber Saber Ayad, an Egyptian Christian activist who ran a Facebook page for atheists, has been in custody since September for 'insulting religion.' His alleged offence was posting a link to an infamous YouTube video that caused protests in the Islamic world that month. He was arrested by a Christian policeman: Egypt's Coptic church does not look kindly on atheism either."

Similarly, in April 2016, Yemeni activist Omar Bataweel was abducted, shot, and killed for posting criticism of Islam on Facebook. As of this writing, there have been no arrests in his case.

The Atheist Alliance - Middle East and North Africa (AA-MENA) has seized upon the Facebook closures, and on Bataweel's murder, as a rallying cry to energize atheists in the region to demand justice. Using the hashtags #Omar_Human_Case and #FacebookVSFreeSpeech, the group intends to bring attention to the violence and censorship against Muslims in the region.

Specifically, AA-MENA has three goals: First, the group wants their deleted pages restored; second, the group wants Facebook to "respect the rights of irreligious individuals and groups in the MENA region as well as respect the freedom of thought and expression"; and third, the group wants Facebook to upgrade its process of evaluating reports of violations of community standards so that pages and posts won't be taken down due to harassment campaigns.

Do you think Facebook is wrong to delete atheist pages?

[Image via nevodka/Shutterstock]