Facebook Bans Canadian White Nationalist Groups and Pages After Backlash

Company changed policies governing hate speech 2 weeks ago

Photo Illustration, Amber McAden, Source: Getty Images, Facebook
Headshot of Kelsey Sutton

Facebook is banning six Canadian white nationalist groups and personalities, the company said today, marking a reversal of a decision last week to let a video espousing white nationalist talking points remain on the site.

The ban will affect four far-right white nationalist groups (including the Canadian Nationalist Front and Soldiers of Odin) and two far-right figures, white nationalists Faith Goldy and Kevin Goudreau. Facebook also said it will ban pages associating with those groups on the platform and on Instagram.

“Individuals and organizations who spread hate, attack, or call for the exclusion of others on the basis of who they are have no place on our services,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “That’s why we have a policy on dangerous individuals and organizations, which states that we do not allow those who are engaged in offline ‘organized hate’ to have a presence on our services.”

The spokesperson added that the banned groups and pages “violate this policy, and they will no longer be allowed a presence on our services,” adding that “our work against organized hate is ongoing, and we will continue to review individuals, Pages, groups and content against our Community Standards.”

BuzzFeed News first reported the ban Monday.

The decision comes two weeks after Facebook said it was changing its policies governing hate speech on the platform prohibiting users from posting white nationalist and white separatist content on the sites. That rule, which Facebook told Adweek would be initially enforced via user reports and human moderation, was met with some skepticism as onlookers and activists wondered how the ban would be enforced. And the veracity of the rules came under question almost immediately when a Facebook spokesperson told HuffPost that a video from Goldy, in which she discussed white nationalist talking points and disparaged Jewish people and people of color, did not violate the company’s terms of service.

Less than a week later, the site scrubbed that video, along with Goldy’s entire account, from the site.

A Facebook spokesperson said that Facebook’s rules against extremist content and organized hate groups has been longstanding and that the ban against hate would be enforced regardless of the ideology.

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a nonprofit dedicated to monitoring and countering hate groups in the country, celebrated the bans but said more should be done. The group is calling on Facebook to ban another Facebook page that “shares hundreds of examples of overt racism, death threats, and white nationalist sentiment.”

“This is obviously only the tip of the iceberg, and worse groups remain,” the group said in a Facebook post about the ban.

The decision to crack down on white nationalist and separatist groups underscores the evolving nature of Facebook’s terms of service, whose enforcement protocols are somewhat opaque. In its new policies, Facebook bans explicit white nationalist and separatist content but does not have a policy for identifying and addressing implicit white nationalist and separatist content.

A Facebook spokesperson said two weeks ago that its terms and policies were always subject to change as the company tried to account for coded language and other more implicit expressions of hate. In an email Monday, the Facebook spokesperson said the company was relying on subject matter experts well-versed in hate speech to identify trends and  hate speech using a combination of tech tools and human review.

"In its attempts to police the speech of over 2 billion people, Facebook runs the risk of censoring those that attack white nationalism, too."
-Vera Eidelman, staff attorney, American Civil Liberties Union

The company took down 2.9 million hate speech posts in the third quarter of 2018, about half of which had been auto-flagged using Facebook’s automated tools, the spokesperson said.

Vera Eidelman, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said that while Facebook was “well within its rights” as a private company to remove white supremacist, nationalist and separatist content from the site, the company runs the risk of infringing on protected speech by making content decisions.

“In its attempts to police the speech of over 2 billion people, Facebook runs the risk of censoring those that attack white nationalism, too,” Eidelman said. “Further, every time Facebook makes the choice to remove content, a single company is exercising an unchecked power to silence individuals and remove them from what has become an indispensable platform.”

@kelseymsutton kelsey.sutton@adweek.com Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.