By Emily Schrader
As a longtime advocate for reform in social media “community standards,” I was thrilled to see Facebook’s recent announcement of a content-advisory board. Unfortunately, my excitement rapidly dissipated once I read through the list and saw that among the first 20 names were Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Khalid Kamran, who also happens to be a supporter and former member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, a group designated as a terrorist organization by states such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain.
Social media have a well-documented problem with extremism. Giving someone like Kamran, with her proven biases and alarming associations, the ability to shape content policy decisions is a big step in the wrong direction.
First, this oversight board, reportedly “independent” of Facebook, has been tasked with making “final and binding decisions on whether specific content should be allowed or removed from Facebook and Instagram.” Additionally, they’ve been given $130 million to do it. Once the oversight board rules, their decisions cannot be revoked by Facebook unless those decisions are found to violate the law.
Twitch, similar to Facebook, also selected a content-oversight board this month following repeated antisemitic incidents on its platform. However, Twitch didn’t choose board members affiliated with extremist groups to decide on content policies, nor did it give the board the power to overrule existing content standards.
Giving a Muslim Brotherhood supporter the ability to decide what is and isn’t permitted on Facebook’s is a step in the wrong direction, not only for Jews and for Muslims opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, but also for free speech and minority rights in general.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt literally set up its own social media network because it wanted a platform that better “represents Islamic values.” Facebook has claimed they vetted these individuals, including Kamran, but once again, Facebook’s vetting seems to be woefully lacking.
The Muslim Brotherhod is no friend of free speech, and no friend to millions of Muslims. From the group’s inception, it was a fringe Islamist group with a small following in the majority of the Arab world, until gradually rising to popularity, in particular, post-Arab Spring. The Muslim Brotherhood famously won the Egyptian election democratically, only to attempt to do away with democracy altogether after the fact, and to be deposed in a coup by the Egyptian military.
Though only in power a short time, the group immediately cracked down on critics of the Muslim Brotherhood and the newly elected president, Mohammed Morsi.
Today, the Muslim Brotherhood claims to support democracy and to not condone terrorism or violence, yet its associations are concerning, to say the least.
In Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood members and leaders have violently attacked minority communities such as the Copts. Throughout the last 20 years, numerous individual Muslim Brotherhood members have even been designated by the United States as terrorists, including from the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Kamran was a member. Additionally, internationally designated terrorist organizations, such as Hamas were officially branches of the Muslim Brotherhood until 2017.
Kamran’s affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood is well documented. Upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for her role in the Arab Spring, the official Muslim Brotherhood website publicly congratulated her, calling her a “member” of the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood. In 2013, Kamran stated on BBC Arabic in response to questions about the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, “Yes, at this stage, I am partial toward the Muslim Brotherhood.”
In 2019, she posted on Facebook praising the Muslim Brotherhood, stating, “The Muslim Brotherhood movement will remain an anti-tyranny and a freedom fighting movement, despite Trump’s nose and Trump’s agents.” She has publicly praised Iran’s “victory” in criticism of Saudi Arabia and the United States. She has repeatedly attacked the United States and Europe, and has consistently towed the party line of the Muslim Brotherhood, supporting states with increasingly Islamic and authoritarian trends: Qatar and Turkey. Kamran’s affiliation is so controversial that her appointment to the oversight board prompted calls for boycotting Facebook in the Arab world altogether.
Appointing Kamran to make decisions on what constitutes hate speech, harassment or extremism, when she herself has used Facebook to promote an Islamic organization that has consistently opposed liberal values and violated the most basic of rights, is insulting to everyone who believes in freedom of expression and liberal democracy. Even worse, Facebook has publicized and promoted Kamran’s appointment.
It’s as if Muslims oppressing other Muslims, suppressing free speech, or violating basic human rights represents a perspective Facebook thinks should be included in its content-policy decision-making.
This oversight board could have been an opportunity to turn over a new leaf in what has been a spotty history of removing extremism and hate. Instead, Facebook is determined to continue in the same old ways, allowing bigotry and radicalism to have a seat at the policy table.