Technology

Does Facebook Turn a Blind Eye to Hate Speech?

“Sharks need to eat too” said Facebook user, Megan, under an article detailing the jump in the number of migrant drownings and deaths on their journey to a better life in the EU. “Shout it loud, I’m Islamaphobic and proud!” said Nelda, another commenter under the article. These are just two of the comments I reported from the ‘Irish Nationalist’ Facebook page, Alternative View Ireland.

 

Nationalist themes have been trending throughout Europe in countries such as Hungary and Italy. Ireland, until now, has kept relatively to herself in this regard. Alternative, nationalist and often racist Facebook pages such as Redpill.ie, Alternative View Ireland and Anti-EU Muintir na hEireann have been gathering a following since 2016. Alternative View Ireland has a combined following of over 54,000 followers between their two Facebook pages.

 

Facebook says they do not allow hate speech and encourage users to report such commentary. “Islamaphobic and proud!”, as it happened, firstly did not at all violate Facebooks Community Guidelines. Scrolling through the numerous reports I had made to Facebook regarding racially motivated hate speech, a notification appeared – “We’ve reviewed the comment that you reported and found that it doesn’t violate our Community Standards”. Referring to the drowning of immigrants as “natural selection” also did not originally violate Facebook’s Community Guidelines. Facebook user, Grahame supposed that “Darwin was right after all”. Upon contacting Facebook, a second time to query how they had concluded such comments were not hate speech, the social media giant then changed its tune.

 

The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) has said that “the line between freedom of expression and incitement to hatred and violence crossed far too often” following Facebook’s non-removal of racist speech online. Aga Wiesyk, communications officer at ENAR says that “Data collected since 2013 via our iReport.ie racist incident reporting system shows an increase in racist crime reports and lack of sufficient protection and supports for victims in Ireland.

 

Alternative View Ireland say they are not a racist and do not promote racial hatred. “We do not espouse any kind of racial based supremacism. That does not take away from the fact there is an ethnic element to Irish nationhood and Irish nationalism as we are a small ancient ethnic ancestral homeland,” said Darren, one of the group’s administrators. “Yes, we are biased and make no apologies for it as we are a nationalist page, that gives a nationalist perspective. We don’t claim to be impartial, but we are more than fair I think. As for the claims of racism, it’s nonsense- leveled at those opposed to unethical and forced demographic change.” he continued.

 

Alternative View Ireland said that despite “massive censorship campaigns”, their following has grown tremendously. While the group does not write their own content, all content on their page shares the same anti-immigrant, anti-EU, racially coded sentiment.

 

So, does Facebook turn a blind eye to racially motivated hate speech? A number of comments I had personally reported to Facebook, on Alternative View Ireland’s page, were in fact removed, but many were not. When asked about how Facebook decided referring to drowning immigrants as shark food, and furthermore calling their drowning ‘natural selection’ did not, in fact, breach their guidelines, a Facebook spokesperson said “Facebook does not allow hate speech or incitement of violence of any kind and will remove it when reported to us. We have removed the two comments brought to our attention by Campus.ie and we encourage people to use our reporting tools to flag content, so it can be reviewed and swiftly removed by our global team of experts.”. What once – according to Facebook – was not in violation of their community guidelines, was now in violation and was removed. When asked why Facebook had changed their opinion, Ken Waters an employee at Hume Brophy, a global communications agency speaking on behalf of Facebook, said that he simply passes on the message and does not have that information.

 

This would appear to suggest the when it comes to handling hate speech Facebook operates on a “those who shout the loudest get the promptest reaction” where complaints are assessed not just on the Hate content of the post but also on the veracity of the complaint and the perceived commitment of the complainant.

 

The lesson to be learned from all this is that if you are going to complain to Facebook you need to so with a commitment determination and passion greater than the racism, hatred and bigotry that inspired you to report the problem in the first place.