“Islamophobia happens to be something that made these companies lots and lots of money,” said one researcher, who added that it keeps people on the platform and available to see ads.
Facebook, YouTube, and Amazon moved to remove or reduce the spread of anti-vaccination content after recent public outcry. The platforms largely eradicated ISIS terrorists and made inroads to remove white supremacists from their services, and worked to keep them off. But through all this, anti-Muslim content has been allowed to fester across social media.
For years, Muslims endured racial slurs, dehumanizing photos, threats of violence, and targeted harassment campaigns, which continue to spread and generate significant engagement on social media platforms even though it’s prohibited by most terms of service. This is happening amid increasing violence against Muslims in the US and attacks on places of worship worldwide, including last week’s murder of 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand by a man police say was steeped in white supremacist internet meme culture.
Researchers say Facebook is the primary mainstream platform where extremists organize and anti-Muslim content is deliberately spread.
Maarten Schenk, editor of the fact-checking site Lead Stories and the developer of Trendolizer, a tool that can be used to track the virality of fake news, recently wrote about a network of 70 Macedonian websites publishing disinformation for profit. Of the top 10 stories on the websites, eight had the word “Muslim” in the title, Schenk said.
“Most of these stories are old or sensationalized or even completely not true. Yet they keep reappearing over and over again,” he said. “There clearly is a big ‘demand’ for such articles if you see how many people are willing to like and share them.”
The trend has been going on for years. In 2017, BuzzFeed News reported on the website True Trumpers that used false anti-Muslim headlines to generate engagement on Facebook and, in turn, financial profit.