Facebook announced today that it was banning support for white nationalism and white separatism from its platform, deciding that the two ideologies were virtually indistinguishable from white supremacy, which was already against the rules. Previously, Facebook rules drew a distinction between white supremacy and the other two categories — one that various civil right organizations found to be ridiculous. The company’s reversal was first reported by Motherboard, which also uncovered internal docs splitting hairs about white supremacist ideology last year.
“We didn’t originally apply the same rationale to expressions of white nationalism and separatism because we were thinking about broader concepts of nationalism and separatism — things like American pride and Basque separatism, which are an important part of people’s identity,” Facebook wrote in a blog post announcing the change.
Brian Fishman, Facebook’s policy director for counterterrorism, told Motherboard that “the language and the rhetoric that is used and the ideology that it represents overlaps to a degree that it is not a meaningful distinction.”
In addition to minimizing the presence of white supremacy on Facebook, the company is also taking a more proactive measure, redirecting people who search for white supremacist terms to Life After Hate, a program founded by reformed extremists “committed to helping people leave the violent far-right.” A sample screenshot shows that a user who searches the term “heil hitler” on Facebook will be presented with a banner at the top of the results warning them that “these keywords may be associated with dangerous groups and individuals.”
In a statement, Rashad Robinson, the president of racial justice organization Color of Change, said, “Facebook’s update should move Twitter, YouTube, and Amazon to act urgently to stem the growth of white nationalist ideologies, which find space on platforms to spread the violent ideas and rhetoric that inspired the tragic attacks witnessed in Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, and now Christchurch.”
The move, unequivocally a step in the right direction, is sure to receive some pushback from Facebook’s critics on the right, who often claim Facebook has an anti-conservative bias. Republican representative Steve King, for instance, has often parroted standard white nationalist talking points. He told a far-right Austrian publication last year that Westerners are being replaced by “other people’s babies” — the same idea the Christchurch shooter used to justify his actions.
The man who committed the mass shooting in New Zealand earlier this month and livestreamed the massacre on Facebook uploaded a manifesto that referred to Muslims as “invaders” and showed obvious signs of the author’s having been radicalized online. While Facebook’s decision follows that event closely, its announcement today said the company has undertaken conversations with “members of civil society and academics who are experts in race relations” over the past three months.