What just happened? Social media has simultaneously been one of the greatest and worst things about the internet. While it allows friends and family to communicate across the world, it can also be a place of hate and extremism. Facebook announced a major policy change that will ban white nationalist and separatist content on the platform. This is yet another attempt to stem what it considers hateful content from promulgating throughout Facebook.
To combat hate speech, Facebook has announced that it's looking to clamp down on white nationalism and white separatism on its own platform starting next week.
In practical terms, this means that Facebook will ban any "praise, support, and representation of white nationalism and separatism" on the platform once the policy goes into effect. Searching for terms that are generally associated with white nationalism or separatism like "Heil Hitler" will be prohibited and instead will link to the Life After Hate organization which provides educational resources and support for ex-white supremacists.
Our policies have long prohibited hateful treatment of people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity or religion — and that has always included white supremacy. 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.
But 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 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 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 separatism.
While Facebook has always banned hate speech against protected classes such as race, religion, or ethnicity, it didn't apply the same standard to white nationalism and separatism because broad concepts like nationalism instill a sense of pride in some people. However, Facebook noted that after having conversations with experts in race relations that white nationalism in particular "cannot be meaningfully separated from white supremacy and organized hate groups."
This announcement will likely ruffle the feathers of many who disagree with censoring any kind of content regardless of how objectionable they are. Many political conservatives already accuse Facebook and Twitter of censoring conservative voices with President Trump tweeting #StopTheBias last week. However, after reports that the New Zealand shooter live-streamed the event, Facebook is trying to prevent similar content from flourishing on the platform.
Facebook acknowledged that there will be people who try to "game" the system once the policy goes into effect. While explicit support for white nationalism will be banned, more subtle and coded phrases will not due to how hard it is to detect the nuances.
As with any attempt by social media platforms to regulate hateful content, the question always comes down to what exactly constitutes hate? How do you distinguish between white nationalism and someone simply expressing pride in being American, German or Scottish? Is it fair to target white nationalism but not other races that use similar speech?
While those questions remain to be answered, Facebook seems up to the challenge.
"Our challenge is to stay ahead by continuing to improve our technologies, evolve our policies and work with experts who can bolster our own efforts. We are deeply committed and will share updates as this process moves forward."