Facebook Punishes Secular Pages for Offending Religious Believers

I suspect most of you have already heard about Facebook's recent punishment of two secular pages, Ex-Muslims of North America and Atheist Republic. Punishment? That's right, I chose that word deliberately because that is what appears to have happened in at least two cases. The administrators of both of these pages were informed by Facebook that they would face a week-long restriction which prevented any of us who follow them from seeing their updates in our Facebook news feeds. This seems like a targeted action aimed at reducing their reach on the social network.

While I am not sure that anyone outside of Facebook knows with any certainty what prompted this punishment, the suspicion among almost everyone involved is that it had to do with complaints from religious believers (most likely Muslims). That is, a sufficient number of religious believers were offended and reported the content on these pages to Facebook, leading to the punishment. This might not have even been a decision any individual made; it could have been triggered by algorithms Facebook has implemented to prevent offense.

It now appears that Facebook may have decided that the temporary restriction was not sufficient and shut down Atheist Republic's page. Despite Hemant's update yesterday morning that the page was up again, I am unable to access it at the time I'm writing this post.

I realize that Facebook is a private company that can do whatever it wants when it comes to restricting the free expression of ideas. If they wanted to ban every single secular page on their network in order to preserve the feelings of the religious, they could do so. And if they did so, there would be little any of us could do about it. The same is true for Twitter, YouTube, and so on.

Still, I think it is important for those of us who use Facebook and other social media platforms to ask ourselves what they would need to do in order for us to seriously re-evaluate our support for them. Whether we realize it or not, we are contributing to the success of these networks by using them. They make money off the content we contribute and our numbers. If it turns out that Facebook and other networks are suppressing the criticism of religion in response to complaints from offended religious believers, one might ask whether secular individuals want to keep contributing.

I hope that Facebook decides to restore Atheist Republic and stops trying to punish Ex-Muslims of North America. But if this sort of thing continues, I'd suggest that these groups, others like them, and those of us who support them leave Facebook behind and migrate to services that value the free expression of ideas.