Facebook’s terms-of-service agreement will be updated next week with a new anti-hate rule: any content that falls in the space of “white nationalism” or “white separatism” will be banned. The update, from a Wednesday Facebook news post titled “Standing Against Hate,” comes nearly two weeks after the platform was used to widely share live video of a mosque shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand.
It also comes well after public outcry against Facebook’s existing policy, which wagged a finger at “white supremacy” but counted the other aforementioned types of speech as acceptable. Today’s news post acknowledges that previous divide in its policy by saying it wanted to leave room for “national pride” types of speech that exist across the world.
The news post explains that Facebook’s conversations with critics led the company to conclude that “white nationalism and separatism cannot be meaningfully separated from white supremacy and organized hate groups.” However, the news post doesn’t explicitly clarify why exactly that is the case, instead simply citing an internal “review of hate figures and organizations.” If you’re looking for a range of academic voices speaking on why white nationalism is inherently linked to racism, Vice’s lengthy September report on the matter is a good start. That report acknowledges the systemic forces that so-called white-nationalist sites and advocates can lean upon to imply racism or racially motivated violence without saying it loudly enough for, say, an algorithm-driven social media platform to flag it.
Next week, however, Facebook insists that when users “search for terms” connected to white supremacy on its platforms, they will be redirected to the site Life After Hate. This 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, founded by former members of hate organizations, offers “crisis intervention, education, support groups, and outreach” to other former or current members of similar groups. Facebook did not clarify whether searches for white-nationalist catchphrases will bring up similar prompts; its example of a “Heil Hitler” search is wildly different from searches for, say, white-nationalist talk-show hosts or hateful meme terms.
In terms of the enforcement we can expect next week about white nationalism, however, that’s unsurprisingly more vague. From a Vice report on today’s news, which went live shortly before Facebook’s post on the matter:
Specifically, Facebook will now ban content that includes explicit praise, support, or representation of white nationalism or separatism. Phrases such as “I am a proud white nationalist” and “Immigration is tearing this country apart; white separatism is the only answer” will now be banned, according to the company. Implicit and coded white nationalism and white separatism will not be banned immediately, in part because the company said it’s harder to detect and remove.
It’s unclear how much of this content will be targeted by automatic processes, fueled by specific keywords, and how much will require live moderators to parse. (In the latter case, Facebook better hope the mods in question haven’t already been turned into, say, 9/11 deniers.) And with the specter of the Christchurch tragedy still lingering, this news post has a glaring lack of information on video content—about Facebook’s emphasis on live video around the world and how easily that half of its operations could still be exploited. But Facebook did admit in its own news post that its declaration of intent isn’t the same as legitimate enforcement: “Unfortunately, there will always be people who try to game our systems to spread hate. 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.”