Two Facebook pages associated with white nationalist Richard Spencer have been kicked off the platform.
The outspoken white nationalist who coined the term “alt-right” and runs the National Policy Institute, had been operating in the open on Facebook. The National Policy Institute, which advocates for a white “ethnostate,” had a page with 4,000 followers. Spencer’s online magazine “Altright.com” also had a Facebook page with more than 10,000 followers.
Both were removed Friday after an inquiry from VICE News about those pages and those of several other prominent hate groups.
In Congressional testimony earlier this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his company does “not allow hate groups.”
“We do not allow hate groups on Facebook, overall. So if there’s a group that, their primary purpose or a large part of what they do is spreading hate, we will ban them from the platform overall,” he said.
And yet a quick search on Facebook turned up scores of pages linked to groups classified as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. These included Spencer’s pages, The Nationalist Initiative, a newly formed spin-off group from the recently-collapsed Traditionalist Workers Party, which along with Spencer, was a major presence in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville last August.
VICE News contacted Facebook regarding its policy on hate groups, and flagged a number of examples of groups using their platform, including Spencer's and The Nationalist Initiative. As of 12:30 p.m. Friday, the social media company had removed all three of those pages. Richard Spencer did not immediately return a request for comment.
Facebook said in a statement that they don’t allow organized hate groups to maintain a presence on the service. They filter them out through human monitors, technology that identifies hate speech, and partnerships with organizations.
And yet those failsafes did not catch two of the most prominent white nationalist groups in America.
“They told us they’re going to take it more seriously, and we’ve been sending them information about those groups,” Heidi Beirich, deputy director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’ Intelligence Project, told VICE News. “And yet they’re still there.”
Facebook has been accused of tolerating hate speech and even being used as a tool of genocide in countries like Myanmar, where ultra-nationalists relied on the platform to incite violence against Rohingya. When questioned about this by Congress, Zuckerberg committed to hiring more human moderators to monitor the service in non-English speaking countries.
Other pages connected to white supremacists continue to exist, such as AntiComm, a group that provided security to Spencer when he spoke at the University of Florida in Gainesville last October. In November, an investigation by ProPublica revealed how members of AntiComm had been sharing bomb-making instruction manuals on an encrypted server called Discord.
Other Facebook groups and pages have names like “Christianity is white, Goy” (posting anti-semitic memes and Hitler quotes), “White European Bloodlines,” and “Hitler Youth.”
In June, Facebook published a long blog post ruminating over the definition of hate speech, with the title “Hard questions: Who Should Decide What Is Hate Speech in an Online Global Community.”
“There is no universally accepted answer for when something crosses the line,” wrote a Facebook executive Richard Allan. Allan also noted that in the previous two months on average, Facebook deleted around 66,000 posts reported as hate speech per week, so about 288,000 per month globally.
Cover image: White nationalist Richard Spencer speaks to select media in his office space on August 14, 2017 in Alexandria, Virginia. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)