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Facebook restores world’s biggest page for Atheists after outcry

Facebook has restored ‘Atheist Republic’, by far the biggest page operated by the Atheist community on any social media network, after it was shut down using ‘mass reporting’ by religious people.

The move followed a big outcry among atheists and free-speech advocates online.

The page was taken down about 24 hours ago, and remained inaccessible to the general public for much of that time period.

However, the associated Facebook group by the same name was functional and accessible.

The Atheist Republic page was being used by over 1.6 mln Atheists to communicate, and is only one of the several such minority-oriented pages that have been targeted by religious believers via ‘mass reporting’.

Under Facebook’s ‘community guidelines’, if enough people flag a page as being harmful or promoting violence or containing illegal content, the page is automatically hidden without any manual intervention.

There are several groups on Facebook whose sole purpose is to shut down the personal accounts, groups and pages of those who are critical of major established religions (see picture below).

Once a page is restricted, the moderators and administrators have the option of submitting the decision for a manual review, and several pages have been resuscitated as a result of the appeals process.

The Atheist Republic page was reportedly started by Armin Navabi, who is of Iranian origin, and was being managed by a group of moderators including Allie Jackson.

“I’m simply in tears,” Jackson said. “Every single day, we have helped numerous atheists.. now, without proper reason, without care, they remove us.. they have cut off our reach to the community we’ve spent years growing.”

She said that for over 6 years, Atheist Republic administrators have had their personal Facebook accounts banned and their posts removed “because people have harassed us over content they didn’t like.

She said Facebook knows that the platform’s algorithms are abused by people and organized groups.

But “they blame us for not following terms of service, or community standards, while the people harassing us get rewarded for organizing complaints over content they disagreed with.”

In addition to pages, groups too can be shut down by mass reporting.

However, since membership in groups can be controlled by the administrators unlike in case of page — which is visible to everyone on the Internet — reporting a group in a co-ordinated attack is more difficult.

Believers in God have, however, successfully targeted groups too, such as the Freethinkers Group of India, which was taken down six times.

Many religious people find the idea of people not believing in their religion abhorrent, especially since the non-believers often create posters and articles that question their beliefs.

“The page that has oppressed me for four hideous months is no more,” claimed a user in another group. 

“Atheist Republic has been removed from Facebook.. I’ve gotten (sic) justice for being emotionally violated by that evil page,” he added.

On the other side, many fans of the page are equally distraught at the ‘taking down’ of the page as well.

“Religious fanatics are organizing together and mass reporting secular pages, taking advantage of Facebook’s reporting algorithm to shut freethinkers down,” complained Ali Rizvi, a Canada-based doctor of Pakistani origin.

Paradoxically, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, was earlier listed as an atheist himself, though he recently said he was no longer ‘anti-religion’ as he used to be.

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