The world’s largest and most influential social media network has finally banned white nationalism and white separatism. Motherboard reports Facebook announced the major policy shift — under which white nationalist and white separatist posts will now be treated the same as white supremacist material — in a blog post on Wednesday. The new rules will go into effect next week. Facebook said that:
Over the past three months our conversations with members of civil society and academics who are experts in race relations around the world have confirmed that white nationalism and white separatism cannot be meaningfully separated from white supremacy and organized hate groups. Our own review of hate figures and organizations – as defined by our Dangerous Individuals & Organizations policy – further revealed the overlap between white nationalism and white separatism and white supremacy. Going forward, while people will still be able to demonstrate pride in their ethnic heritage, we will not tolerate praise or support for white nationalism and white separatism.
The ban will also apply to Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.
In addition to prohibiting such posts, Facebook will also begin directing users who attempt to post banned content to the website of Life After Hate, a nonprofit organization founded in 2011 by former white supremacists that describes itself as “dedicated to inspiring individuals to a place of compassion and forgiveness, for themselves and for all people.”
While Facebook previously banned white supremacist content, company policy accepted white nationalist posts, arguing that such ideology “doesn’t seem to be always associated with racism.” That sparked widespread outrage.
Facebook also stoked worldwide anger after the white supremacist gunman who murdered 50 worshippers at two Christchurch, New Zealand mosques earlier this month was able to livestream the massacre to at least thousands of viewers before the company was able to cut him off. Facebook said that it had blocked 1.2 million uploads of the gruesome video and deleted another 300,000 within 24 hours of the killings.
Last November, an investigation by The Intercept found that Facebook users were able to select “white genocide conspiracy theory” as a pre-defined “detailed targeting” criterion on the social network to promote a pair of articles to a group of nearly 170,000 users defined as “people who have expressed an interest or like pages related to White genocide conspiracy theory.” Facebook initially approved the promotion; the company removed the ad and apologized after being contacted by The Intercept.
In 2017, Facebook raised eyebrows and ire after ProPublica revealed it had allowed advertisers to target the news feeds of some 2,300 users who expressed interest in the topics of “Jew hater,” “How to burn jews,” or, “History of ‘why jews ruin the world.’” Facebook then removed the anti-Semitic categories, explaining that they had been created by an algorithm and not company employees.
Lawmakers, activists and advocates welcomed Facebook’s policy shift, although many said the move should have come sooner.
“This is long overdue as the country continues to deal with the grip of hate and the increase in violent white supremacy,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a Washington, DC-based legal advocacy group. “We need the tech sector to do its part to combat these efforts.”
“This should have happened long ago,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said in a statement. “For too long, Facebook has allowed hate speech – and the violence that it can inspire – to propagate on its platform. Since billions use its service, we must demand more from them.”
Others expressed skepticism about whether the ban will work.
“We’ll see if they are able to enforce this,” Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right, told Al Jazeera. “There are thousands of white nationalist posts on Facebook every day. They weren’t able to stop the Christchurch video, so it will be challenging to do this.”