Facebook has come under fire for allegedly removing major Arabic atheist pages from its site.
Since February, Facebook has reportedly suspended at least 16 Arabic-speaking atheist pages, citing violations of community standards. The pages had a combined membership of over 100,000 individuals.
According to Christian Today, most Facebook page suspensions are not arbitrated by a live person. Instead, Facebook uses an automated program to track the number of times a page is reported by users. When the number of reports crosses a certain threshold, the page is automatically suspended.
This has left atheist pages, particularly those based in heavily Muslim areas, vulnerable to what many news sources are calling "cyber jihadism." According to the News Hub, Islamist groups may be encouraging their members to report atheist groups or using automated programs to continually report such groups, forcing them to be taken down even if they haven’t violated Facebook’s policies.
The Atheist Alliance of the Middle-East and North Africa (AA-MENA) has spoken out against the removals, calling on Facebook to change its monitoring system and preserve free speech on its site.
Representatives of AA-MENA circulated a Change.org petition demanding that Facebook revise its policy. The petition has gained over 11,000 signatures as of June 24, but it is still short of its 15,000 signature goal.
"While Arab atheists, with absolutely no exaggeration, already face all kinds of oppression, torture, restriction of speech and even sentences to death in their countries," the petition reads, " ... Arab atheists are facing a huge risk of losing the remaining freedoms that are practiced secretly or online. … Social media is the only space we can freely speak through."
Facebook has reportedly not released an official statement on the matter.