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Top boxer threatens Facebook over hate groups

WBA World light-welterweight champion Amir Khan says the social-networking company has failed to remove "racist" hate speech against him on the site.

3 min read

Boxing's popularity seems to have been overtaken by such pleasures as mixed martial arts and American Idol over the last few years. This doesn't seem to have discouraged Facebook users from forming groups around their love of expressing hate for certain boxers.

According to the Telegraph, WBA World light-welterweight champion Amir Khan, a Briton of Pakistani heritage, has decided to threaten the social-networking company with legal action over some of these Facebook groups.

Together with his manager, Frank Warren, Khan has employed legal counsel after so far failing to persuade Facebook to take down so-called hate groups aimed at him. These groups, in the view of Khan and Warren, made racist and defamatory comments about the boxer.

Khan and Warren complain that they have so far received only standard acknowledgments from Facebook and have therefore employed the law firm Lupton Fawcett.

"The problem is, when you search for a celebrity on the site, you also come across pages using the celebrity's name and image that have no official link but in some instances are full of defamatory and illegal content," according to a quote in the Guardian of Lupton Fawcett's Stephen Taylor Heath.

Khan is a somewhat-polarizing figure in British sports. However, it is perhaps surprising just how many Facebook hate groups there are aimed at him. I counted more than 20.

Does he know there appear to be 1,600 "Hate MySpace" Facebook groups? Cc Deneyterrio/Flickr

Facebook's terms of service are very clear about hate: "You will not post content that is hateful, threatening, pornographic, or that contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence." So perhaps it's hard to understand how the company can allow so many groups that claim they hate Amir Khan in their very name.

One can, of course, argue that you can say you hate a sportsman, in the sense that the mere sight of them arouses unpleasant thoughts (for some, David Beckham, for others, the German national soccer team). One doesn't necessarily wish that person or those persons harm.

Indeed, when one goes through the Amir Khan hate groups, the vast majority seem to dislike Khan for his attitude, for only fighting (in their opinion) boxers of a poor level and for his lack of boxing skill.

Much of the tone and content, however, is undoubtedly abusive, and there are suggestions of racist overtones in certain comments. Khan's lawyers say they are specifically focusing on material that they believe is defamatory or racist.

This case lends further indication that many interpretations Facebook makes of content on its site are highly subjective. In removing some Holocaust denial groups and one Muslim-hating group, Facebook made it clear that it made its own judgments on what should be considered hateful speech.

It will be interesting how far Khan's lawyers are prepared to push their case. It will also be interesting whether other sporting personalities will join together in attempting to remove potentially defamatory content from Facebook and other sites.

While it seems almost comical that there appear to be 1,600 Facebook groups that profess to hate MySpace, there are only 54 that claim to hate David Beckham, and only one Facebook group appears when you search for "I hate the German football team."