France: Facebook Islamists Hunt in Packs
By Yves Mamou
Fatiha Boudjalat, the co-founder of the secularist movement Viv(r)e la République, is a prominent figure of anti-Islamism in France. She is interviewed regularly on television and radio, and her op-eds are regularly published in Le Figaro. Recently, on Facebook, Boudjalat criticized strongly an Islamist government employee, Sonia Nour, for calling the Tunisian Islamist murderer of two women in Marseille, a “martyr”. A few weeks after that, Boudjalat’s Facebook account was deleted.
She is not alone in having been targeted by Islamists on Facebook. Leila Ourzik, an artist who lives in Grigny, a predominantly Muslim suburb not far from Paris, is a Muslim who eats and drinks openly during Ramadan and resists wearing the Islamic veil. Because of her un-Islamic behavior, she is openly insulted and threatened daily, as well as on social networks. On Facebook, Ourzik became a target. Islamists harassed her with insults and threats, posted her picture on pornography websites, and finally succeeded in obtaining the deletion of her account on Facebook. Suddenly, without warning, her Facebook account was shut. “Not once, many times” she says to Gatestone. Why? “I do not know, they never tell you. But one day, it is over, everything is deleted”.
Olivier Aron, a dentist and former politician, was taken off Facebook for weeks. Aron is active in debates about Islam and Islamism. He is also not shy. On Facebook, he contradicts Islamists. Islamists, however, do not seem interested in debating. They seem interested in censoring. According to Aron, many of them complained to Facebook. “I suppose they accused me of being a racist and an Islamophobe” Aron said. “Intimidation is everyplace. A man I do not even know discovered my telephone number and all my contact details and sent them to his friends”. Consequences were not long in coming. Aron’s assistant at the dental office received a frightening phone call: “Tell doctor Aron that soon ‘Kelkal’ will hit him”. Kelkal, an Algerian Islamist terrorist, was a member of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and responsible for the wave of attacks in France during the summer of 1995. Although Kelkal was killed by the police 20 years ago, for many radicalized Muslims, he remains the prototype of “modern” jihadist.
Last spring, Michel Renard, a history teacher in Saint Chamond, was also deleted from Facebook. “Without any warning, without any possibility of talking to someone, suddenly all my writings were gone,” he told Gatestone. Renard had posted online extremely detailed analyses of Islamism. “But,” he said, “Islamists are extremely active on Facebook. They insult you; they threaten you”. Even though Renard refused to be “friended” on Facebook by his pupils, “their parents complained to the director of the school… Intimidation is everywhere, in real life and on the Net”.
These Facebook users, like dozens of others, seem to be the victims of Islamist “packs”. Once the opinions and analyses of these Facebook users are noticed, they are denounced to Facebook as “racists” or “Islamophobes” and their accounts are deleted.
In France, Facebook deletes thousands of accounts every year. It would be interesting to know how many among them were deleted because their owners questioned Islamism, but no one knows: Facebook never communicates other than by bland boilerplate declarations that clearly seem intended to avoid explaining anything.
What we do know is that “Facebook has 4,500 ‘content moderators’ and that it recently announced plans to hire another 3,000”, according to The Guardian. 7,500 moderators for more than two billion Facebook users? That is ridiculous.
The Guardian continues: “There are moderating hubs around the world, but Facebook refuses to disclose their exact number or locations”. The question should be, in fact: Does Facebook outsource content moderation to subcontractors, and if so, to which?
In France, three companies appear to be competing as subcontractors for moderating online content: Netino, Concileo and Atchik Services. The “moderating hubs” of these companies are generally located in French-speaking countries with cheap labor, in North Africa and Madagascar. In France, rumors abound that Facebook’s moderators are located in French-speaking Muslim countries such as Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Facebook never confirms or denies outsourcing its “moderation” work to companies employing cheap Muslim labor in North Africa.
Notably, Muslim hate-speakers continue to proliferate on Facebook, while anti-Islamists face harassment and the loss of their accounts.
It is a symptom of the dominant denial in the French media that it keeps repeating — despite massive evidence to the contrary — that “Islamism is not at war with Western culture.” As a consequence, freedom of speech in France is now “moderated” by Muslims in Muslim countries.
Ironically, however, if Facebook were instead outsourcing its “moderation” work to companies in France or Belgium, the result would be the same. Extremist Muslims hunt in packs, while anti-extremists are mainly individuals. The French Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel, for example, France’s regulating agency for radio and television, is overwhelmed by a storm of protests each time the French anti-Islamist journalist, Éric Zemmour, appears on television. Zemmour is sued twice a year for “racism” — simply because Islamist organizations such as the Collectif contre l’islamophobie en France (“Collective Against Islamophobia in France”, CCIF) launch campaigns to urge French Muslims to protest against Zemmour’s “Islamophobia”. Is the same system used for social networks? Given the total lack of transparency of Facebook’s decisions, it is possible.
Unfortunately, counter-attacks against these wolf-pack harassment campaigns are still “under construction.”
Not only does Facebook censor content using undisclosed “moderators,” but the company has also developed a law-enforcement response team that deals with requests from police and security agencies. In France, such requests from courts and justice departments have increased from 3,208 in 2013 to 8,121 in 2016. According to Le Journal du Net, a news website dedicated to current events and media, in 2015, “following government requests, Facebook deleted 37,990 pages in France, compared to 30,126 for India, 6,574 for Turkey and only 85 pages in Russia” during the same period.
Were only Islamist and jihadi pages deleted? What else? Inconvenient history? For governments in Europe, anti-jihadists are considered an even greater problem than jihadists.
In April 2017, Facebook published a report entitled, “Information Operations and Facebook”. On page 9, one can read, “In France, for example, as of April 13, these improvements recently enabled us to take action against over 30,000 fake accounts”. The “improvements” Facebook is talking about are related to new analytical techniques permitting Facebook to detect serial “fake news” accounts. These “fake” accounts were, unsurprisingly, especially active during France’s presidential campaign in the spring of 2017.
For Facebook and for French officials, the big question does not seem to be: “Is Islamism at war with our freedom?”, but only: “Is Vladimir Putin interfering with French politics?” Facebook pays attention to that. Facebook cannot afford to ignore politicians’ requests. In every country, the big advertising money for Facebook’s platform is dependent on the goodwill of the government.
It is important to remember how, in 2015, at the height of the migration crisis, German chancellor Angela Merkel pressed Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, to remove the thousands of anti-mass-migration posts on Facebook. “Are you working on this?” Merkel asked in English, to which Zuckerberg replied “in the affirmative”.
Two years later, artificial intelligence tools are on their way to bring temporary peace and quiet to governments in exchange for quick profits — but not peace to the people.
Yves Mamou, author and journalist, based in France, worked for two decades as a journalist for Le Monde.