Facebook fesses up to online hate (sort of)

The social media giant's removal of white nationalist Faith Goldy from its platform was a litmus test



Purveyors of hate may have just lost their best hope of attracting new blood with Facebook’s new policy to bar people and groups espousing white supremacist, white nationalist and white separatist views from its platform. 

On April 9, the social media giant followed through on its pledge to clean up its act on hate removing Faith Goldy, the former Rebel Media-announcer-turned-propaganda-arm of the neo-Nazi movement, and a handful of other well-known far-right groups and figures online in Canada. Among them, the Canadian Nationalist Front, Aryan Strikeforce, Wolves of Odin and Soldiers of Odin

Facebook cited its new policy on “dangerous individuals and organizations” for its decision. 

Goldy was a litmus test for Facebook, but she is only the tip of the iceberg of the threat posed by right-wing extremists in Canada.

Yellow Vests Canada, for example, the group “created to protest the carbon tax and the Treason of our country’s politicians, who have the audacity to sell out OUR country’s sovereignty to the Globalist UN, and their Tyrannical policies,” trades in the Trumpian language of Jewish conspiracies to take over the world.

The group claims not to “promote or encourage ethno-nationalism in any way.” But its Facebook page tells a different story. Members there have engaged in anti-Semitic rants, Holocaust denial and anti-immigration invective targeting Muslims. In January, a number of explicit threats of violence and calls for the assassination of the prime minister – “Shoot the mother already” – were posted on the group’s page. 

The comments were reported to Facebook (and the RCMP), but instead of suspending the group’s online privileges, as many were calling for, Facebook ordered the offending content removed. 

Back before the days of the internet, hate groups had a difficult time of it, relegated to distributing their usually crude, vile handouts extolling the virtues of a white ethnostate on street corners. If even a few passersby took them up on their offerings, it was considered a good day.

With the advent of chat groups, however, their hateful messages became exponentially simpler to disseminate – anyone with a laptop could reach thousands. And as Facebook, Instagram and other similar social media platforms grew, the job became a breeze. They could deliver their messages and, more importantly, they could engage anonymously online with anyone who showed interest. 

As a result, Facebook became the tool of choice for virtually every extremist, from neo-Nazis to incels and Islamophobes to anti-Semites.

But while Facebook has ostensibly seen the light about the threat posed by the spread of white nationalism, it’s hard not to view the move as a response to the Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque mass shooting after part of the killing of 50 worshippers was broadcast live by the gunman on the social media platform.

Calls for the company to introduce a livestreaming delay on Facebook in the aftermath of the shooting were resisted by company head Mark Zuckerberg, prompting New Zealand’s privacy commissioner John Edwards to call Facebook “morally bankrupt.” Edwards noted that Australia, for example, has introduced laws to penalize the executives of social media networks who fail to remove “abhorrent violent material” shared on their platforms.

The truth is that legitimate complaints to Facebook have gone unanswered or ignored, time and again.

Facebook may claim that it has banned overtly white supremacist and other hard-core racists from its platform, but there are other groups and individuals still on its platform that must be removed if Facebook is serious about dealing with hate.

Like white supremacists, white nationalists want a white ethnostate. Most experts in the field recognize the groups share the same basic ideology. So, we really need to ask: will Facebook’s latest pronouncement have teeth? 

In the Harper era, thanks to an onslaught of extreme right-wing advocates – in particular, Rebel Media “Commander” Ezra Levant – the government repealed Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which specifically and cogently dealt with hate on the internet. 

As a result we lost a major tool for fighting hatred and the spread of online radicalization. 

In the coming weeks, the House of Commons Justice Committee will be looking into restoring Section 13, or some version thereof. Whether the move garners unanimous approval from all parties will be interesting to see. 

Canadian Security Intelligence Service claims that in the past year it has reinvigorated its intelligence unit to fight domestic extremism. There should be a continued focus on these law enforcement efforts. Fighting hate cannot begin and end with Facebook. Other internet providers and our own government need to step up. 

Bernie M. Farber is chair of the Canadian Anti-hate Network. 

@nowtoronto

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