In the wake of realworld hate crimes and violent terror attacks, Recently social media giants have been admonished by lawmakers around the world for allowing their platforms to amplify voices of extremists. To an extent where the UK lawmakers called them accessories to radicalization and accessories to crime. Additionally Democratic lawmakers on Thursday slammed the “vague explanations” offered by tech companies responding to questions about extremist content on their platforms.
This news comes as a ripple effect that on Thursday, multiple news outlets broke a story that Facebook has announced about six particularly toxic extremists and one conspiracy theorist organization have been banned from Facebook and Instagram.
Stories reported by CNN, the Verge, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post laud Facebook for blocking the accounts of inflammatory online figureheads like religious leader Louis Farrakhan, known for sharing anti-Semitic views; Paul Nehlen, a white nationalist who ran for Congress in 2018; far-right figures Milo Yiannopoulos and Laura Loomer; and conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson and Infowars’ Alex Jones from both platforms.
For years Jones had used Facebook channel to spread the idea that the Sandy Hook shooting, in which 20 children died, was a hoax. Jones followers took it upon themselves to harass the parents of murdered children. He’s being sued for defamation by 10 of those families.
Jones was temporarily suspended from Facebook last summer. His official fan page was also previously banned, though Jones was allowed to operate a personal account. Now that has been prohibited on Facebook’s sites as well.
Twitter permanently blocked InfoWars and Jones in September last year for violating its harassment policies. Yiannopoulos, the former editor of Breitbart News and a right-wing provocateur, and Loomer, a far-right activist who is also known for spreading conspiracy theories, have both previously been banned from Twitter Inc.’s social media service.
“We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology,” a Facebook representative said in a statement on Thursday. “The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today.”
But it seems the company’s enforcement of rules has long remained inconsistent. Just last July, Facebook had tweeted, “We just don’t think banning Pages for sharing conspiracy theories or false news is the right way to go.”
Facebook just announced they are finally banning Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos and other racist conspiracy theorists. Let’s not forget that a mere 10 months ago, they were defending these same people’s right to publish their hateful disinformation and harass Sandy Hook families. https://t.co/68dnImTIWd
— Christopher Wylie 🏳️🌈 (@chrisinsilico) May 2, 2019
We understand you strongly disagree with our position. We just don’t think banning Pages for sharing conspiracy theories or false news is the right way to go. They seem to have YouTube and Twitter accounts too – we imagine for the same reason.
— Facebook (@facebook) July 12, 2018
Then in August, Facebook took down four Jones-related pages, saying it did not take them down for spreading conspiracy theories, but rather for “glorifying violence.”
“They have rules, but enforcement is completely random,” said Roger McNamee to Wired, a high-profile Silicon Valley investor and a sharp critic of Facebook. “They don’t do anything about it until massive harm has been done and they can no longer find a dodge. Facebook is clearly feeling pressure.”
McNamee said Facebook’s business model depends on amplifying content that stimulates fear and outrage, and banning a few influential figures doesn’t change that. “It is sacrificing a handful of the most visible extreme voices in order to protect a much larger number of users it needs to maximize profits,” he said.
The company didn’t say what specific posts or actions led to the bans, though a spokesperson said that Jones, Yiannopoulos and Loomer have all recently promoted Gavin McInnes, founder of the violence-prone far-right group the Proud Boys, whom Facebook banned in October.
In March, two weeks after a gunman went live on Facebook before marching into a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, and killing dozens. Facebook took subsequent steps to remove his account and banned content that references white nationalism and white separatism.
The news of the Facebook ban leaked out before the company had actually removed the controversial accounts. That gave Yiannopoulos a chance to notify his followers of the ban and promote his email newsletter, according to screenshots captured by BuzzFeed.
Wired also reported that the four still had control of their Instagram accounts for nearly an hour after the bans were announced. And Jones’ Facebook page, “Infowars Is Back,” was still online and live-streaming for nearly two hours after the ban was disclosed.
Loomer also took advantage of the advance notice, posting photos to Instagram about being banned from the platform that included captions directing their fans to follow them elsewhere. The pages were eventually removed, but the time lag and such media rollout turned Facebook into another example of the company’s struggles with content moderation.
Laura Loomer is now directing fans to her Telegram on her supposedly banned Instagram. pic.twitter.com/Vw7iOmlIu3
— Ryan Mac (@RMac18) May 2, 2019
“Our work against organized hate is ongoing,” Facebook said in the statement. “We will continue to review individuals, pages, groups and content against our community standards.”