Facebook nears a tipping point when it comes to moderating hate speech

Facebook has banned hundreds of accounts linked to the far-right militia group Boogaloo Boys. A member of the group wearing the group’s insignia is pictured here. AFP via Getty Images

Facebook just banned dozens of “boogaloo” extremist accounts.

On Tuesday afternoon, Facebook announced that it had removed more than 200 accounts linked to the violent, anti-government extremist “boogaloo” movement. This move comes after weeks of criticism over the company’s handling of hate speech on its platform. Still, banning the boogaloo accounts does not solve Facebook’s larger hate speech problem.

More than 100 major brands, from Unilever to Verizon, have pulled advertising from the platform after civil rights groups called for a boycott in the past week. Facebook’s efforts to address the controversy included the announcement of increased efforts to prevent voter suppression based on race and ethnicity and a potential audit of its moderation practices.

The controversy over social media companies and hate speech has intensified in recent weeks as protesters across the US have been fighting for greater racial justice. About a month ago, as protests were first breaking out, Facebook ignited outrage when it decided not to do anything after President Trump posted a comment saying “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” in a post about the protests. This enraged civil rights leaders, as well as some of Facebook’s employees. It also prompted the “Stop Hate for Profit” ad boycott, led by organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP. Three US senators joined the chorus on Tuesday, sending a letter to Facebook asking the company to more strictly enforce its rules on extremist content.

Facebook has long had a policy explicitly forbidding hate speech. The company says it removes 89 percent of hate speech on the platform before it gets reported, and has argued that while there are always exceptions at its scale, overall, it’s doing a fine job. A recent report by the European Commission found that Facebook was faster than some of its competitors in addressing instances of hate speech.

“We do not profit from hate. We have no incentive to have hate on our platform,” Facebook VP Nick Clegg said in a Bloomberg appearance on Tuesday, and reiterated in a CNN appearance.

Regardless of the company’s claims about policing hate speech, recent events are furthering the perception that Facebook simply isn’t doing enough. Specifically, critics have argued that the company is making exceptions for politicians like Trump, and that flat-out violent groups like the boogaloo movement can continue to gain traction on the platform. Some of the company’s smaller competitors like Reddit and Twitter are more aggressively enforcing rules on hate speech, by banning accounts linked to President Trump and popular accounts that support him.

Facebook’s more evasive approach fits into an established playbook for the company. The reported audit, for instance, would be the third one the company has commissioned. The company has taken down harmful conspiracy networks on its platform, only to see them pop back up or new ones arise. Meanwhile, the adboycotts likely won’t have a dire financial impact, because the bulk of Facebook’s revenue comes from smaller brands (the top 100 advertisers only accounted for little more than 6 percent of its revenue last year). But Facebook and other social media companies at least appear to be responding to this new source of pressure.

“What you’re seeing right now is people are leveraging various mechanisms — either economic or public relations — to push back on policies they don’t like,” Kate Klonick, an assistant professor at St. John’s University School of Law who studies social media and free speech, told Recode. “And you’re seeing the platforms give in.”

Twitter started a wave of social media companies coming down on Trump

Recent moves by Reddit, Snapchat, Twitch, and YouTube mark a decision by social media companies to start more strictly enforcing the rules around hate speech, weeks after protests around the police killing of George Floyd have caused a national reckoning over systemic racism in the United States.

In many ways, Twitter started this wave of action when in late May, it added a warning label for glorifying violence to President Trump’s “shooting … looting” post. This represented a precedent-setting move for social media companies, which have been reluctant to moderate Trump, no matter how incendiary his rhetoric. (Twitter has spent the past two years refining its policies on moderating politicians’ speech.) Facebook then struck a nerve when it responded very differently to the same Trump post on its own platform. The company chose not to moderate the post, arguing that it wasn’t an incitememt of violence but an announcement of state use of force.

Now other platforms are joining in and following Twitter’s assertive lead.

On Monday, Reddit banned r/The_Donald — a popular message board for Trump fans to share memes, videos, and messages — for consistently breaking its rules around harassment and hate speech. The same day, Twitch, a livestreaming company owned by Amazon, decided to temporarily suspend Trump’s account after it found some of its livestreams included “hateful conduct,” such as a rebroadcast of Trump’s kickoff rally where he said that Mexico was bringing rapists to the United States. Those moves follow Snapchat’s decision earlier in June to stop promoting Trump in its “Discover” section because his account had, in the company’s view, incited racial violence. And YouTube banned several high-profile far-right accounts, including those of white supremacist Richard Spencer and former KKK leader David Duke.

While there will be plenty more examples of hate speech on these platforms that likely go unaddressed, the spate of takedowns and bans could carry serious political consequences. They run against the stated free speech values of early internet forums like Reddit, which have historically tried to be as laissez-faire as possible in their approach to moderating content.

“I have to admit that I’ve struggled with balancing my values as an American, and around free speech and free expression, with my values and the company’s values around common human decency,” Reddit CEO Steve Huffman told reporters on Monday, according to The Verge, announcing the company’s decision to ban r/The_Donald.

Even Facebook has notably drawn some lines with Trump, taking down a Trump campaign ad featuring Nazi insignia and at least two other Trump-sponsored pieces of Facebook content in the past few months, including a Trump ad that tried to mislead people into filling out a fake census form, and a post for copyright infringement. But the company is not reversing course on the president’s “looting ... shooting” post, and while it says it’s open to putting labels on political misinformation, it hasn’t yet done so with Trump.

There’s two-way political pressure on Facebook

Historically, Facebook and other social media companies have been cautious not to overly moderate content in the interest of appearing to protect free expression online. Particularly because President Trump and other Republican politicians have accused social media companies of having “anti-conservative” bias.

Trump has issued an executive order attempting to overturn Section 230, a landmark internal law that shields social media companies like Facebook from being sued over what people post on the platform. The rationale for overturning Section 230, according to Trump, is that Facebook is supposedly putting its thumb on the scales against Republican content — which is a largely unproven and, many argue, bad-faith claim.

That pressure puts Facebook in a bind. If it moderates popular conservative figures too much, even if those users post extremist or hateful content, that fuels Trump and other Republicans to argue that they’re being unfairly censored.

On the other hand, if Facebook doesn’t do a good enough job moderating white supremacist and other hateful content, Democrats, civil rights leaders, and major advertisers could continue to accuse the company of turning a blind eye to hate.

“I’m not going to pretend that we’re going to get rid of everything that people, you know, react negatively to,” said Facebook’s Clegg on CNN on Tuesday. “Politically, there are folks on the right who think we take down too much content, folks on the left who think we don’t take down enough.”

While all the major platforms have long had policies on hate speech, it has often taken major national events like mass shootings to pressure the companies to put more force around these issues. So we’ll now see if Facebook turns into a meaningful change in how the company moderates content or waits for the controversy to blow over, as it has in the past.

Ultimately, it looks like Mark Zuckerberg will be the judge when it comes to drawing the line on Facebook restricting hate speech versus protecting free speech.

Support Vox’s explanatory journalism

Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.

Load more
Read full article on:
The U.S. Just Sent 2 Aircraft Carriers to the South China Sea. China Isn’t Happy
China accused the U.S. of flexing its military muscles in the South China Sea by conducting joint exercises with two aircraft carrier groups
This New Boss Will Need to Be Her Own Activist
Amanda Blanc will have to justify why a breakup of U.K. insurer Aviva isn’t the way forward.
Elections in Delaware and New Jersey, Blackout Day, Johnny Depp: 5 things to know Tuesday
Elections in Delaware and New Jersey, Blackout Day, Johnny Depp's libel case begins and more news you need to know Tuesday.
Why Scientists Are Eavesdropping on a Rainforest in Indonesia
The Kalimantan Rainforest in Borneo, Indonesia is one of the most biodiverse spots on Earth. Bustling with life, the dense greenery is home to orangutans, all kinds of birds, frogs, you name it. But the rainforest won’t stay that way if mining and logging continues unchecked. Which is why The Nature Conservancy’s Dr. Eddie Game is listening to the sounds of the rainforest to measure the impact of human activity on the area’s wildlife.
About a fifth of adults in the US have moved due to Covid-19 or know someone who did, a new study shows
When the coronavirus pandemic began its rapid spread from country to country and eventually state to state, what once felt like home was no longer a safe haven for millions of people.
Biden, Trump and the Gingrich effect: Democrats must toughen up to win the 2020 election
Democrats must go on offense to fight disinformation and voter repression, and be much more clear about the dangers of a two-term Trump presidency.       
1 h
New law would require NYPD officers to obtain liability insurance: report
State lawmakers are churning out more proposed laws to hold cops accountable for misconduct.
1 h
TikTok to leave Hong Kong as security law raises worries
HONG KONG — TikTok said Tuesday it will stop operations in Hong Kong, joining other social media companies in warily eyeing ramifications of a sweeping national security law that took effect last week. The short-form video app’s planned departure from Hong Kong comes as various social media platforms and messaging apps including Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram,...
1 h
Foreign college students must take classes in person or leave country: reports
School administrators say they were surprised by announcement
1 h
What civil rights groups want from Facebook boycott: Stop hate speech and harassment of Black users
Facebook boycott is giving voice to complaints that social media disproportionately stifles Black users while failing to protect them from harassment.      
1 h
Siberia had its warmest June ever as wildfires raged and carbon dioxide emissions surged
An estimated 59 megatonnes of carbon dioxide were released across Siberia in June by wildfires raging across the vast Russian region, according to scientists at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).
1 h
Siberia had its warmest June ever as wildfires raged and carbon dioxide emissions surged
An estimated 59 megatonnes of carbon dioxide were released across Siberia in June by wildfires raging across the vast Russian region, according to scientists at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).
1 h
I got Covid-19 two months ago. I'm still discovering new areas of damage
The cough has come back, without warning and seemingly for no reason; so has the fatigue. True, neither are as debilitating as when I had the actual virus, but they are back.
1 h
A former US soldier has pleaded not guilty to allegations he planned an attack on his own unit
A former US Army soldier facing terrorism charges pleaded not guilty to allegations that he was planning a mass casualty attack on his own unit by sending sensitive information to an extremist group.
1 h
Brother of Little Rock mayor steals car with two kids inside, cops say
The brother of an Arkansas mayor was arrested Monday night for allegedly stealing a car with two children inside, a report said. Darrell Lamont Scott — brother of Little Rock mayor Frank Scott, Jr. —  hopped into the car as the engine was running in the parking lot outside Baptist Hospital, according to KATV. “Don’t...
2 h
Hollywood comes to UK High Court as Depp takes on The Sun
Johnny Depp has a starring role in a courtroom drama in London, where he is suing a tabloid newspaper for libel over an article that branded him a “wife beater.”
2 h
Trump's risky nose-to-nose challenge to China in the South China Sea
David Andelman writes that the deployment of two US aircraft carrier strike groups into the South China sea for the largest military exercise in years just as China has been holding its own drills around the Paracel Islands threatens an accidental conflict that could quickly, even catastrophically, escalate.
2 h
Activist: Hong Kong freedoms are eroded under new law
The enactment of Hong Kong national security law has sparked wide concerns and fears in Hong Kong. In a latest move, the city's Education Bureau ordered schools to remove books that could violate the law. Speaking to CNN's Ivan Watson, pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong reacts to the controversial bill.
2 h
US charges ex-Panama president’s sons with bribery, money laundering
PANAMA CITY – US prosecutors have charged two sons of former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli in connection with bribery and money laundering linked to Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, according to a federal complaint unsealed on Monday. Luis Enrique Martinelli, 38, and Ricardo Alberto Martinelli, 40, were arrested earlier in the day in Guatemala City as...
2 h
A protester was struck by a car during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Indiana
A vehicle in Bloomington, Indiana, hit at least one protester during a Black Lives Matter demonstration as it was ending Monday evening.
2 h
Protester struck by car during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Indiana
A vehicle hit at least one person at a Black Lives Matter protest in Bloomington, Indiana, as it was ending Monday evening.
2 h
Foreign students must leave US if classes go online, new rules state
International students will be forced to leave the U.S. or transfer to another college if their schools offer classes entirely online this fall, under new guidelines issued Monday by federal immigration authorities. The guidelines, issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, provide additional pressure for universities to reopen even amid growing concerns about the recent...
2 h
Mark Meadows: Trump is the only thing standing between Americans and the 'mob'
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Monday that President Trump is the only entity standing between the law-abiding American people and the left-wing mob that has set fire to city neighborhoods, defaced and destroyed public property and continues to call for the restriction of law enforcement.
2 h
Ingraham: If lying was an Olympic sport, Democrats would be 'draped in gold medals'
Laura Ingraham defended President Trump against withering criticism from liberals Monday night after a weekend of backlash over his July Fourth remarks.
3 h
5 of the victims who died in an Idaho plane collision have been identified
Authorities identified some of the victims in the deadly plane collision above an Idaho lake.
3 h
Wisconsin man accidentally shoots golfer, 80, after aiming for woodchuck, police say
A Wisconsin man accidentally shot an 80-year-old golfer on Monday while aiming at woodchuck on his property, authorities said.
3 h
Clarke Schmidt’s ‘swagger’ left quite an impression on J.A. Happ
There could be a scenario where Clarke Schmidt takes over for J.A. Happ in the Yankees’ rotation next year should the veteran lefty starter leave via free agency. Should that happen the Yankees will be in good hands according to Happ. “I did see him tonight, I was watching for sure. In spring training it...
3 h
Descendants weight in on debate over Confederate symbols
ABC's Lionel Moise spoke with the descendants of Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jefferson about the debate over statues and monuments raging across the country.
3 h
Teen attended church party with 100 people weeks before dying from coronavirus: report
A Florida teenager who died of the coronavirus attended a party at a church with 100 others just two weeks before her death, a report said Monday.
3 h
California prisons replace their top medical officer amid a coronavirus outbreak
The top medical officer for California's corrections system has been replaced amid a growing coronavirus outbreak among the state's inmates.
3 h
TikTok to Withdraw From Hong Kong as Tech Giants Halt Data Requests
Google, Facebook and Twitter said they were reviewing China’s punitive new national security law for the city, a rare public questioning of Chinese policy by major American tech companies.
3 h
Bubba Wallace signs endorsement deal with Beats by Dre
Beats by Dre announced Monday that NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace signed an endorsement deal with the company. “We weren’t going to announce this until later this week, but hate cannot win the day,” Beats by Dre, which was acquired by Apple in 2014, wrote on Twitter. “No one should ever be asked to apologize for...
3 h
Teddi Mellencamp's 5-month-old daughter, Dove, will undergo neurosurgery
Teddi Mellencamp has announced that her 5-month-old daughter will soon undergo neurosurgery.
3 h
TikTok is leaving Hong Kong after controversial national security law goes into effect
TikTok said it will exit the Hong Kong market, joining other popular social media platforms expressing unease after China imposed a controversial national security law on the city.
3 h
TikTok is leaving Hong Kong after national security law goes into effect
TikTok says it will exit Hong Kong, joining other big tech firms that have expressed wariness about operating in the Asian financial hub after China imposed a controversial national security law there.
3 h
Mexican president is flying commercial to meet Trump
Despite having a private plane, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is flying commercial to the US this week to meet US President Donald Trump. CNN's Matt Rivers reports.
3 h
Atlanta mayor faces criticism over early handling of protest site
Bottoms was seen as a potential running mate for Joe Biden
3 h
Nets’ Dzanan Musa to honor George Floyd with social justice jersey message
Dzanan Musa isn’t from around here. When the young Bosnian joined the Nets, he didn’t know much about the U.S., and less about the racial injustice prevalent here. But when he and his girlfriend saw the video of George Floyd’s May 25 killing at the hands of police, it left their eyes open. And tear-filled....
3 h
Man with shotgun killed by police after threatening officers at Milwaukee VA hospital, officials say
A man armed with a shotgun was shot and killed by police on Monday night after he threatened officers at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.      
3 h
What to watch on Tuesday: ‘Jim Jefferies: Intolerant’ on Netflix
Tuesday July 7, 2020 | “What Would You Do” returns on ABC.
3 h
D.C man allegedly set Confederate statue on fire, prosectors say
Man charged with helping destroy Pike statue in D.C.
3 h
When Mets bench coach Hensley Meulens is expected to arrive at camp
Hensley Meulens has been absent from Citi Field since the start of spring training 2.0, but there is an expectation the new Mets bench coach will report to camp this week. Manager Luis Rojas declined comment Monday when asked about Meulens. Once Meulens arrives, the Mets will have a full coaching staff, even if all...
4 h
Brazil’s Bolsonaro says lungs ‘clean’ after reported coronavirus symptoms
RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Monday he had undergone another test for the novel coronavirus and his lungs were “clean,” after local media reported he had symptoms associated with the COVID-19 respiratory disease. Bolsonaro has repeatedly played down the impact of the virus, even as Brazil has suffered one of...
4 h
Hong Kong Grants Police Sweeping New Powers Under National Security Law
Police can seek the security minister’s permission to order publishers, service providers and hosting services to remove messages, restrict or cease access to the message, or restrict or cease access by any person to the platform
4 h
Miguel Andujar could still end up at third base for Yankees
The Yankees hope Miguel Andujar develops into a versatile player who can fill a role that has become very popular among big-league teams. However, don’t forget that Andujar started 132 games at third base in 2018 when he finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year race to the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani, who turns...
4 h
Atlanta mayor "still in a state of shock" after testing positive for coronavirus
4 h
From Disney to NASCAR, brands are breaking away from the president's racial rhetoric
A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter.
4 h
From Disney to NASCAR, brands are breaking away from Trump's racial rhetoric
A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
4 h