Facebook Responds To U.K. Regulation And Bans Far Right Groups EDL, BNP And Britain First
On Thursday, Facebook announced a permanent ban from both Facebook and Instagram on all of the U.K.’s most prominent far-right groups. The ban, which comes into effect on Thursday, includes the English Defence League, the British National Party, the National Front and Britain First. The twelve named accounts include the organizations plus associated individuals. Nick Griffin and Paul Golding are on the list. The ban also extends to others who “express praise or support” for those cited.
Nick Griffin and the BNP are the best known of those banned, although Britain First came to prominence when President Donald Trump retweeted anti-Muslim videos posted by the group’s former deputy leader.
The race to regulate
Social media regulation is on its way, and the platforms are now acting to remove content from their sites. A week ago, the U.K. announced proposals for “tough new measures to ensure the U.K. is the safest place in the world to be online,” with “social media companies and tech firms to be legally required to protect their users and face tough penalties if they do not comply.”
Facebook told me “we want Facebook to be a safe place and we will continue to invest in keeping harm, terrorism, and hate speech off the platform.” Last month, the company announced that white nationalist postings will be prohibited. The “ban on praise, support and representation of white nationalism and separatism on Facebook and Instagram, which we’ll start enforcing next week,” has been brought about because “it’s clear that these concepts are deeply linked to organized hate groups and have no place on our services.”
When Facebook banned the U.K. far-right’s Tommy Robinson in February, the company’s statement said that “when ideas and opinions cross the line and amount to hate speech that may create an environment of intimidation and exclusion for certain groups in society – in some cases with potentially dangerous offline implications – we take action.”
And now ‘take action’ they have.
Announcing this latest move, the company said that “individuals and organizations who spread hate or attack or call for the exclusion of others on the basis of who they are, have no place on Facebook. Under our dangerous individuals and organizations policy, we ban those who proclaim a violent or hateful mission or are engaged in acts of hate or violence.”
According to the Guardian, the Knights Templar International responded to the ban with “horror” and claimed to be exploring legal options. Their statement said that “Facebook has deemed our Christian organization as dangerous and de-platformed us despite never being charged, let alone found guilty of any crime whatsoever. This is a development that would have made the Soviets blush.”
Labour Party MP Yvette Cooper reportedly described Facebook’s move as “a necessary first step but… We all know the appalling consequences there can be if hateful, violent and illegal content is allowed to proliferate.”
The impossible balancing act
Fueled by Brexit, the far-right is on the rise in the U.K., after coming to prominence with the murder of MP Jo Cox in 2016. The delays and confusion associated with the Brexit process have also raised the temperature significantly. Far-right terrorism is seen as a genuine and increasing risk in the U.K., as elsewhere. It was recently included in the remit of the country’s MI5 Security Service for the first time.
Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, referred to Brexit in his response to the news. “Some of these groups banned from Facebook,” he tweeted, “are the ones whose supporters were specifically targeted by Arron Banks and Leave.EU with hateful anti-migrant ads during the ref. Our democracy remains deeply, perhaps irrevocably, tarnished.”
Despite the nature of the groups and individuals impacted by the ban, the free speech argument will get significantly more vocal after this news. Jim Killock, the executive director of the Open Rights Group, said of the proposed U.K. regulation that “the government’s proposals would create state regulation of the speech of millions of British citizens. We have to expect that the duty of care will end up widely drawn, with serious implications for legal content that is deemed potentially risky, whether it really is or not.”
Clearly, the social media platforms are being asked to censor content on their platforms – a turn of events that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg argued against in an op-ed last month. With regulatory announcements now stacking up, the company has evidently decided it needs to act. Social media regulation is needed. Where the content is violent or inciteful in nature it is clear cut. But where content is a political point of view, however extreme, policing our online platforms while enabling free speech will prove to be the hardest imaginable balancing act.
And so Facebook is filling a vacuum left by governments who have failed to regulate and are now hastily addressing this. They have threatened penalties without offering solutions, leaving it to the platforms to play censor. The risk is those platforms play it safe.
Regulation is required. Balance is just as important. Watch this space – the free speech debate in the U.K. is about to hit new levels.