The social media platform has long faced criticism for facilitating the spread of misinformation and hate speech.
Facebook announced the ban on the notorious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on 2 May. It will also remove the accounts of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, openly anti-Semitic former Congress candidate Paul Nehlen and far right pundits Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson and Laura Loomer.
“We’ve always banned individuals or organisations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology,” Facebook said in a statement. “The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today.”
Facebook said the process of banning content makers such as Alex Jones was a lengthy and detailed one. It said it considered a number of factors before determining an organisation or individual is “dangerous”.
Breaking News: Facebook barred Alex Jones and some other fringe right-wing personalities from its services, escalating the enforcement of its content policies https://t.co/Os9Se7MCU3
— The New York Times (@nytimes) May 2, 2019
Six extremists booted from Facebook for hate speech and targeted harassment
The social media giant has some 2.7 billion regular users across Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp.
Facebook subsidiary Instagram had previously been reluctant to remove users even when they had used the site to promote targeted violence and to spread hate speech. In April, it told Daily Beast that Laura Loomer violated its rules in a video that described Islam as “cancer on humanity”. Loomer had also said Muslims should be banned from holding public office. The post sparked death threats against Muslim-American Democrat Ilhan Omar.
The site had previously removed pages associated with Alex Jones and his extremist media outlet, InfoWars for violating its policies on bullying and hate speech. Leaked internal emails showed some executives were deeply concerned about possible backlash for allowing Jones to post images seen as anti-semitic.
Yiannopoulos has also been criticised for advocating violence against liberals on his Instagram account. In October 2018, he wrote “just catching up with news of all these pipe bombs,” after a Trump supporter sent explosive devices to CNN and left-wing commentators. “disgusting and sad (that they didn’t go off, and the daily beast didn’t get one).”
After initially ruling that the post did not violate its community guidelines, it relented and removed the post.
— Ryan Browne (@Ryan_Browne_) May 2, 2019
Alex Jones was back on Facebook just an hour after his ban
The immense difficulty of banning a user or organisation was highlighted when a page titled ‘Infowars is back’ appeared like some right-wing Hydra. The new page showed Alex Jones live streaming about being banned.
Users can create new pages in just minutes and those with substantial followings across platforms can quickly mobilise their fanbase. At time of writing, ‘Infowars is back’ seems to have also been removed. Facebook was also taking down Infowars fan pages.
Loomer and Yiannopoulos also took to their Instagram pages to warn their followers of their imminent bans and direct them to other platforms they use.
Facebook just removed Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Loomer, Paul Joseph Watson, Paul Nehlen, and Alex Jones (again) from its platforms.
— Media Matters (@mmfa) May 2, 2019
Jones and company “owed their influence” to social media platforms
The not-for-profit research centre Media Matters for America welcomed the decision to ban the extremists but noted it was only a start.
“This move by Facebook is a step in the right direction, opening doors to making its platforms safer and inspiring some optimism that the tech company might be capable of taking responsibility for the ways its platforms have empowered extremists,” Deputy Director Cristina López G. wrote in a blog post.
“The newly banned figures owed their influence to the massive reach they were allowed to cultivate through Facebook and Instagram, using their accounts to post content that dehumanised entire communities, promoted hateful conspiracy theories, and radicalised audiences — all while they profited from directing people to their own websites.”
While the presence of extremist material on the site seems to have caused reputational damage to Facebook, investors were largely unmoved by the bans of Alex Jones and company. Shares remained flat in after-hours trading.