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Demands That Facebook Shut Down "Fuck Islam" Group:

The New York Times reports on this, though it's characteristically coy about the group's name; the group appears to be this one -- there are others with similar names, and at least one with the same name, but this is the one that has the about 750 members that the Times reports. Facebook has apparently not taken any definitive action on this, though there's an allegation that it did briefly suspend the group.

Facebook, of course, is legally entitled to control what's posted on its site; it's a private entity, and not bound by the First Amendment. In fact, its decision may itself be protected by the First Amendment, though that's not completely clear; in any event, though, there are no laws that even purport to restrict Facebook's discretion here.

Nor would I much fault Facebook for allowing the group and similar groups as to other religions, or for banning such vulgar references in response to the mass criticism. (In the latter case, though, one might fault Facebook if it doesn't ban the Fuck Christianity group, which has also gotten mass criticism, even if the volume of criticism is just in the high thousands rather than tens of thousands.)

But I do wish the New York Times had highlighted just what the petition said:

if the group "f**k Islam" and all similar disrespectful groups of religion are not shut down before the end of september..we are all goin to close our facebook accounts..and thats the least we can do to show our respect to religion and our disagreement of such humilating and ignorant groups.

The danger is not just that the Facebooks of the world will bar vulgar criticisms. Rather, it's that the petition doesn't just demand that "the anti-Islam group" be removed (emphasis added) -- the petition calls for the shutdown of "all similar disrespectful groups of religion." Religions are ideologies that offer themselves up for belief. They must be equally available for disbelief, and even disrespect.

The message attached to the "Fuck Islam" group, after all, includes substantive criticism:

The Quran contains many lies and threats. Islam is false, no god exists, and someone should say that loud and clear. Heaven and hell are fables, prayer is a waste of time, and angels and jinn are obviously mythology.

This is not a group against Muslims. They have it bad enough. If you doubt that go to Palestine. If you hate Muslims or are here to harrass them or promote your religion, go away. Muslims can be and usually are peaceful and respectful.

The best thing for the whole world is a rejection of all religions and a renewed discovery of the love for humanity and naturalism.

Fuck Christianity and Judaism as well. These religions are just as false and have a variety of disadvantages. There are other groups devoted to each of these false ideologies. Here is one devoted to religion in general: http://unm.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2225572075 and here is one for Christianity: http://unm.facebook.com/group.php?gid=5857745671

The criticism, even shorn of vulgarity, remains disrespectful. In the view of many Muslims it is doubtless "ignorant" and "humiliating." But if the call is really (as it seems to be) for Facebook and other relatively open speech venues to shut down all such criticism -- whether it uses vulgar words or not -- then that is a dangerous call indeed.

And if Facebook responds to that call, and makes clear that it's shutting the group down because of its underlying hostility to Islam and not because of its vulgarity, then it seems to me that we should indeed criticize that judgment: Facebook would then be making clear that it is willing to countenance criticism of a wide range of ideologies, but is treating either religious ideologies or, more likely, Islam, as sacred cows that its members ought not be treating "disrespectful[ly]." I would hope that Facebook members -- who, after all, use Facebook as a means of self-expression -- would then turn to sites that are more respectful of members' ability to express their ideas.

David Huberman (mail):
I'm a faithful daily reader of the NYT, but this is where we differ on "what's news". I do not think the existence of the group, or the people protesting its existence, constitutes a bona fide news story. By deciding to report on the story, the NYT makes it into a significantly bigger deal than it was.
9.10.2007 4:09pm
scote (mail):

if the group "f**k Islam" and all similar disrespectful groups of religion are not shut down before the end of september..we are all goin to close our facebook accounts..and thats the least we can do to show our respect to religion and our disagreement of such humilating and ignorant groups.


Indeed, this passage focuses on the "disrespect." The idea that Facebook should be purged of all content "disrespectful" to Islam is indeed highly problematic given that many, perhaps most, religions are mutually exclusive, which necessarily means that the existence of other religions which deny the prophesy of Mohammed or that the Koran is the literal word of god are also inherently "disrespectful" of Islam, as is all non-theism.

Religions should not be granted special exemption from criticism nor should they be allowed to demand "respect." Inciting people to violence would be wrong, but offensive criticism should not be banned. I think the consequences would be rather un-expected and many religious groups would find themselves on the other end of this sort of ban than the expect--if such a ban is enacted and enforced in a literal and evenhanded manner.
9.10.2007 4:10pm
scote (mail):

I'm a faithful daily reader of the NYT, but this is where we differ on "what's news". I do not think the existence of the group, or the people protesting its existence, constitutes a bona fide news story. By deciding to report on the story, the NYT makes it into a significantly bigger deal than it was.


I read VC for interesting discussion often based on the legal implications of current events. This issue falls squarely into the category of current events with interesting and consequential issues.

If one thinks that talking about an issue grants it undue status then one is, perhaps, estopped from adding to the discussion in order to say that it is getting to much attention.
9.10.2007 4:13pm
Seth Eagelfeld (mail) (www):
The real question is: What if it were just called something different? Like, I don't know, "People who disagree with Islam's teachings" etc. If the problem is vulgarity, then Facebook has it's work cut out for it in purging the internet's famous ability to assign arbitrary expletives to normally inoffensive topics. However, if it's the theological critique that bothers them, then they're going to have to purge all religious groups, as most religions operate on the basis that all other religions are wrong. What if there were a Jews-for-Jesus group? That would offend me.

I think Facebook's Muslim--and all reasonable-- users should a) not join, b) be happy that a group called "fuck Islam" will probably not be entering the national discourse on religion anytime soon.
9.10.2007 4:28pm
Hoosier:
I'm a Catholic. And I am usually embarassed by folks like Wm Donahue, who make it their daily business to gin-up (here: "djinn-up"?)anger among Cahtolics, when the Faith and the Church are (as Pius X put it) "dissed."

There are individual cases in which I've agreed with the "Catholic League": When *individual* Catholics who are no longer around to defend themselves are slandered; or when tax-money is used for bigotted "artisitc" purposes.

Otherwise, I'm willing to let others say what they want about my Church. First off, because that is how a pluralist society works. And second, because I know they are all GOING TO HELL! Ha-HA!

That makes it pretty easy to live and let live, y'know?
9.10.2007 4:32pm
David Huberman (mail):
scote: my criticism of the NYT for choosing to run the story at all is a legitimate discussion point. Professor Volokh conscisely presents the issue in his post, and my comment (admittedly, tangential, but that's what we do around here) does not take away from the Professor's post or subsequent discussion.
9.10.2007 4:36pm
scote (mail):

scote: my criticism of the NYT for choosing to run the story at all is a legitimate discussion point. Professor Volokh conscisely presents the issue in his post, and my comment (admittedly, tangential, but that's what we do around here) does not take away from the Professor's post or subsequent discussion.

I would disagree as to the news value of this story. But, I apologize for conflating your criticism of the NYT with a criticism of EV for posting the story. While I think I could make a case that could claim they are intertwined, that was not what I was doing because I was mistaken in your point.
9.10.2007 4:44pm
Sk (mail):
"And if Facebook responds to that call, and makes clear that it's shutting the group down because of its underlying hostility to Islam and not because of its vulgarity, then it seems to me that we should indeed criticize that judgment:"

Why? As you said, its a private entity. It can choose to be whatever kind of webpage it wants to be. It can choose to be one in which 'anything goes' in terms of speech, or it can choose to be one in which religions are obligated to be respected. It could be one that allows drug references, or one that discourages drug references. Similarly, there could be joke sites that allow any kind of joke (anti-religious, or racist, or dumb-blonde, or vulgar, or whatever) or there could be joke site restricted to 'children's humor,' or 'family-friendly' or polack-jokes, or whatever.

In short, why is the only legitimate 'facebook site,' on an internet of millions of webpages, one that would appeal to your libertarian instincts? Oddly, I'd think you would prefer the opposite: the libertarian in you would allow webpages to be whatever they want to be-isn't that the essence of freedom of association?

Sk
9.10.2007 4:49pm
Hoosier:
SK--What's wrong with *criticism* of a choice that is protected by the right to freedom of association? If I'm faced with a country club that doesn't allow, say, Mormons to join, are my only options: (A)to come up with a legal argument to force its closure; or (B) to just shut up?

What's your objection to criticizing a decision that an entity has a legal right to make.
9.10.2007 5:00pm
NYU 3L:
Prediction: If Facebook gives in to the demands to take down groups disrespectful of religion, it'll just lead to mass movement to a new social networking site. The internet is one of the most free markets ever, since transaction costs for moving between communities are tiny. It'll be a lot like the LJ/fandom/kiddy porn incident, where if LJ had stood by its original blanket ban, a large percentage of its members would have jumped ship either for practical or protest reasons.
9.10.2007 5:00pm
Specast:
I think Eugene overstates things, in a meaningful way, when he says a call for FB and similar sites to shut down disrespectful criticisms of religion "is a dangerous call indeed." This hyperbole is used all too often by free speech advocates. An organized call for a private company to change offensive practices (or, more specifically, to disallow offensive practices from taking place on its premises) is not dangerous to free speech, at least generally speaking. This is particularly true in the case of internet sites, where the offensive speech has virtually unlimited alternative avenues for expression. Such a call is not the enemy of free speech; it is itself free speech. It is simply part of the markeplace of ideas, and FB, as a participant in that and other markets, is and should be subject to the competing market forces at hand. Indeed, FB (and we) should want people to speak out on these issues, because otherwise FB (and we as participants in the M of I) would not know the extent to which those views exist.

If this call is successful, anti-religion and similar advocates will not be deprived of an outlet for their views, only an outlet on FB's premises.

The situation is different, of course, when the government purports to restrict speech, for the obvious reasons. And I suppose one can imagine circumstances in which a private company's decisions about what speech to permit on its premises may so affect the M of I that its decisions equate to governmental restrictions.

But describing this group's call for FB to abridge speech as "dangerous"? That's overstating things.
9.10.2007 5:12pm
scote (mail):

But describing this group's call for FB to abridge speech as "dangerous"? That's overstating things.


I think that if we accept the premise that speech critical (aka "disrespectful) of religion should be banned on principle then we are heading in to dangerous territory. In this case it is the acceptance of such a tenuous principle that is the danger not the organization being currently petitioned. Once such an idea is countenanced, it is nearly inevitable that someone will propose it for broader enforcement.

If you disagree, you need only look to Britain where the government proposed to ban speech "disrespecting religion," exactly the language used in this petition to Facebook. I don't know what became of that proposal in GB but I certainly hope it didn't pass...
9.10.2007 5:27pm
Sk (mail):
"What's your objection to criticizing a decision that an entity has a legal right to make."

Because it is selective. I am sure there are millions of websites that don't allow disrespectful speech towards religion (for example, religious websites themselves, family websites, children's websites, US government websites, probably most politician's websites, etc). Why devote a column to this one?

Because it is bizarre. We're really supposed to care/censor criticize a website that doesn't allow 'fuck Islam'? We're really supposed to get exercised about a private website that ... demands decorum (what's next: should we censor SportsIllustrated.com because it doesn't show full frontal nudity? Disney.com because it doesn't have sympathetic images of drug abuse? Nickelodean.com because it doesn't feature x-rated imagery?)? I'm used to outrage aimed at media that is too dirty or too disrespectful. I'm not used to outrage because a form of media is too respectful and too cleancut. You really think its a threat to freedom, or to expression, that one particular website won't allow the words 'fuck Islam' on it? Really?

Sk
9.10.2007 5:28pm
Specast:
Scote, you are thinking of government prohibitions on speech. I agree that is dangerous.

My point is that calls for private companies like FB to restrict speech on its premises is not "dangerous" in any real sense. These companies already abridge speech on their premises; alternative views have virtually unlimited alternative outlets; and the folks who call for restrictions are themselves exercising free speech. Why is it okay for a group to say "X!" but dangerous for another group to say "You should not say 'X'!" or "FB, you should not let that group say 'X' here!"

You are also right that "once such an idea is countenanced . . . someone will propose it for broader enforcement," presumably to include abridgment of views that I share or that are in my view healthy for others to hear. But this is simply a part of the M of I; some will always advocate extreme views.
9.10.2007 5:38pm
Steve:
Facebook is hardly a "relatively open-speech venue." In fact, they police the groups rather closely, and shut down all sorts of groups for all sorts of reasons. For example, my wife has informed me that they closed down a discussion group about breastfeeding and threatened to cancel the account of the group's founder because, horror of horrors, the group members were exchanging breastfeeding-related pictures that someone might consider racy. That's just one example of many. I don't think shutting down this particular group would be out of character for Facebook whatsoever.

Prof. Volokh writes, "Religions are ideologies that offer themselves up for belief. They must be equally available for disbelief, and even disrespect." Disbelief is one thing; no one is trying to ban the "I'm not a Muslim" group. But disrespect for a religion is generally considered rude, and Facebook is entitled to decide that it doesn't want that rude behavior as part of its community. Facebook is not required to provide a hosting venue for the "Jesus was a false prophet" group if it doesn't want to, even if you and I might agree that there's no real harm.

It's a big Internet and there are zillions of places where anyone can articulate just what they think of Islam, or anything else.
9.10.2007 5:43pm
George Weiss (mail):
facebook has had a group called "lynch Mike Nifong" on their site for months now

http://american.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2229856317

the gorup's name blatently calls for violence and calls nifong a 'nigga lvoer' in some of the posts and is obviously both illegal and unprotected


im as big of a defender of the lacrsse players and a hater of the politcal correct agenda that led to their witch hunt as anyone else...

ive reported the group and recived no response

but if there gonna leave that group up why not this one too
9.10.2007 6:25pm
Sarah (mail) (www):
I don't think it's unreasonable to say "if this forum continues to host uncivil discussion, I'm leaving," and I don't think it's unreasonable to moderate or even ban groups that are uncivil, when it's your own site in the first place. I delete any uncivil or profane comments on my blog, whether they're being uncivil about the Buckeyes, Mormons, Islam, homeschooling, or whatever else. It's my blog. Duh.

I would be concerned if Facebook were policing only those who are uncivil to a particular religion, or only uncivil to religion. I might even write them a letter or something (I'm afraid I like Facebook enough that it'd take more than partiality to decorum on religious matters to make me abandon them.) But uncivility in general? Check out the comment policy below the button labeled "post comment" on every open post on this very site.


Randomly: when it comes to "offensive" groups on Facebook, it takes more than just existing to properly offend people. Though groups like this will show up if you go searching with "Islam" in your search terms, most people who will see it are people who visit groups where there are a lot of people who've also joined that group. Example: I didn't find the "No, I Don't Care If I Die At 12AM, I Refuse To Pass On Your Chain Letter." group until I'd already joined the "Yes! I was a Homeschooler, and I've got your "social skills" right here!" group. Most of the other groups I'm a member of, are ones my friends are members of.

Really, unless you're deliberately looking for groups that have the word "Islam" in their title (and take it from me and anyone who's done a search for "Mormon" or "Michigan" that this is an inherently risky move,) or are a NYT reader, you'd never know that group exists.
9.10.2007 6:27pm
LM (mail):

I would be concerned if Facebook were policing only those who are uncivil to a particular religion, or only uncivil to religion.

So would I if it were an editorial choice or yielding to threats of violence. But what's the problem if a website makes a decision in response to a threatened boycott? Businesses receive that type of economic pressure all the time from a myriad of activist groups and campaigns. So long as the threat and the response are transparent, everyone can decide whom to patronize with their business.
9.10.2007 11:21pm
Randy R. (mail):
Any religion that can't survive ridicule or disrespect is a pretty weak religion. I don't think there is a single person who is an Islamic believer who might stumble across the Facebook page and think, "hmm, maybe they are right, maybe my religions is a joke, and I should just become an atheist."

So what they are complaining about is that any criticism of their religion must be shut down. If they succeed, we can welcome back the Middle Ages.

Light the fires!
9.10.2007 11:48pm
Sarah (mail) (www):
Exactly, LM. I would be concerned if Facebook were to respond in that way -- though as I said, not concerned enough to abandon the site solely on those grounds (particularly after a single incident.) As a consumer I am somewhat interested in the attitude of service providers towards religious and political expressions made by my fellow patrons. Not obsessed, not demanding Congressional oversight, just interested.

Randy R.: I'm pretty sure the focus here is on "disrespectful" criticism. Though the proposed boycott response could be extended to all criticism, that doesn't seem to be what's threatened here. Maybe the petition is focusing on just this group but means all critical groups regardless of attitude or civility level -- but that's not what they said in the text quoted in the original post.

(incidentally, Facebook is very restrictive about what you can and can't create groups for; I started a group today and got this notice - "Note: groups that attack a specific person or group of people (e.g. racial) will not be tolerated. Creating such a group will result in immediate termination of your Facebook account.")
9.11.2007 12:40am
scote (mail):

Randy R.: I'm pretty sure the focus here is on "disrespectful" criticism. Though the proposed boycott response could be extended to all criticism, that doesn't seem to be what's threatened here. Maybe the petition is focusing on just this group but means all critical groups regardless of attitude or civility level -- but that's not what they said in the text quoted in the original post.


The problem with what you are positing is that to True Believers all criticism of their religion is disrespectful, as are drawings of their prophet. When you let religions decide what people can and cannot publicly say about those religions in a semi public place like Facebook, My Space or Blogger, you have freedom-supressing censorship--even if the government is not yet involved.

You are making the mistake that religious fundamentalists are reasonable.
9.11.2007 1:13am
Zacharias (mail):
It's beyond ironic that EV's denunciation of censorship comes from pen of the very guy who deletes posts here for criticizing his awful grammar!
9.11.2007 10:38am
Wahoowa:
As an avid facebook user, I would be irritated and a bit disturbed if Facebook shut down the group. I might even leave for (horror of horrors) . . . gulp . . . Myspace (blech!).

That said, I do appreciate that the anti-"Fuck Islam" people are going about this is a completely legitimate way: by voting with their feet, so to speak. At least they're not calling for government regulation of Facebook or for nosy university administrators to punish anyone in the group.
9.11.2007 12:06pm
Shinobi (mail):
Should I start a "I support the "Fuck Islam" group but don't want to belong to a group called "fuck Islam"" group. (Y'know, in case the terrorists are looking for me.)

Personally I think Facebook is going to lose some people either way. The question is, who do they want on their site, religious people, or people who want to be able to be critical of religion?
9.11.2007 12:31pm
Elliot123 (mail):
I'd suggest a FB site that lists the core mythology of each of the major religions. Then adherents can tell us exactly why we should respect the belief that angels had a war, Gnesh had an elephant's head screwed on to replace his own, and Mohammed leaped from a rock in Jerusalem into heaven.
9.11.2007 4:56pm