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Facebook extends ban on hate speech to 'white nationalists'

Facebook previously linked expressions of white nationalism with broader concepts of nationalism and separatism.

Image: Dominic Lipinski via PA Images

Updated Mar 28th 2019, 11:59 AM

FACEBOOK IS EXTENDING its ban on hate speech to prohibit the promotion and support of white nationalism and white separatism.

The company previously allowed such material even though it has long banned white supremacists.

The social network said today that it didn’t apply the ban previously to expressions of white nationalism because it linked such expressions with broader concepts of nationalism and separatism — such as American pride or Basque separatism (which are still allowed).

But civil rights groups and academics called this view “misguided” and have long pressured the company to change its stance.

Facebook said it concluded after months of “conversations” with them that white nationalism and separatism cannot be meaningfully separated from white supremacy and organised hate groups.

Critics have “raised these issues to the highest levels at Facebook (and held) a number of working meetings with their staff as we’ve tried to get them to the right place,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a Washington DC-based legal advocacy group.

“This is long overdue as the country continues to deal with the grip of hate and the increase in violent white supremacy,” she said. 

We need the tech sector to do its part to combat these efforts.

Though Facebook said it has been working on the change for three months, it comes less than two weeks after Facebook received widespread criticism after the suspect in shootings at two New Zealand mosques that killed 49 people was able to broadcast the massacre on live video on Facebook.

As part of the change, people who search for terms associated with white supremacy will be directed to a group called Life After Hate, which was founded by former extremists who want to help people leave the violent far-right.

Clarke called the idea that white supremacism is different than white nationalism or white separatism a misguided “distinction without a difference.”

She said the New Zealand attack was a “powerful reminder about why we need the tech sector to do more to stamp out the conduct and activity of violent white supremacists.”

New Zealand reaction

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed Facebook’s move but said more needed to be done in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks.

She made it clear she believed it was a direct response to the criticism that has since been levelled at Facebook, which the accused gunman used to livestream the attack.

“Arguably these categories should always have fallen within (Facebook’s) community guidelines on hate speech,” she told reporters.

“But it’s positive that clarification has now been made in the wake of the attack here in Christchurch.”

Ardern added “there’s more work to do” and said New Zealand would play an active role in the debate.

“There are lessons to be learned here in Christchurch and we don’t want anyone to have to learn those lessons over again,” she said.

Ardern said the goal was to limit harmful content “while preserving a free, open and secure internet”.

She added that a global approach was needed.

“We can all promote good rules locally, but these platforms are global and I believe, therefore, that the solutions will need to be too,” she said.

“I think there would be a benefit for there being a globally coordinated response, that is what New Zealand will be looking for.”

On Tuesday, Australia warned social media executives they could be jailed for failing to quickly take down extremist material.

Social media platforms “can get an ad to you in half a second,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters ahead of the meeting.

“They should be able to pull down this sort of terrorist material and other types of very dangerous material in the same sort of time frame and apply their great capacities to the real challenges to keep Australians safe,” he added.

Ardern also spoke to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday evening.

Varadkar said he passed on the sympathies of the Irish people following the Christchurch attack.

“[We] spoke about how we might work together to take on the root causes and enablers of such attacks,” he added.

Tweet by @Leo Varadkar Source: Leo Varadkar/Twitter

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