Atheist Republic currently boasts over 1.6 million members and serves as a discussion platform where religion (but not the religious) is often criticized.
Unchecked mass reporting by both the religious community and, apparently more militant atheist groups, is likely to blame.
The incident highlights the scale of the task facing social media platforms in the digital age, with no no quick fixes readily available between community guidelines and the easily abused self-reporting mechanisms.
Self-reporting of objectionable content was seen as a workaround for Facebook to combat the rise of online extremism.
Under Facebook’s community guidelines, if enough users report a specific page or piece of content, it is automatically removed with little oversight.
However, some users have banded together on the platform with the express intention of silencing dissenting views. When it comes to blatantly racist or hateful rhetoric, such as that employed by a multitude of alt-right groups, this could be seen as an entirely justified function.
My mom, before and after the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution pic.twitter.com/LxjE5Urnku
— Armin Navabi (@ArminNavabi) April 18, 2017
Atheist Republic was founded by Iranian-born Armin Navabi and moderated by a group of volunteers including Allie Jackson.
“I’m simply in tears,” Jackson said, as cited by Ultra News. “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.”
Jackson points out the flaws in such a system, underlining the potential for abuse.
“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.”
“Religious fanatics are organizing together and mass reporting secular pages, taking advantage of Facebook’s reporting algorithm to shut freethinkers down,” wrote Ali Rizvi, a Canada-based doctor of Pakistani origin, as cited by Ultra News.
Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg himself had previously claimed to be an Atheist, though he appears to have softened his view on religion, conveniently timed amid rumors of a potential bid for the White House in 2020.
Following a 2016 Christmas and Hanukkah post, one commenter asked the Zuck “Aren’t you an atheist?” to which he responded: “No. I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.”