Facebook and Instagram Ban White Supremacist Content

*The Breakdown is The North Star’s daily analysis of an essential news story designed to provide historical context, go beyond the popular headlines, and offer a glimpse of where this story may be going next.

Key Facts: Facebook and Instagram announced on Wednesday that they would extend a ban on content that promotes “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and separatism.” Though white supremacists were barred from using the social media platform, Facebook said the new restrictions did not apply to previous views of white nationalism tied to larger conversations on nationalism and separatism, “things like American pride and Basque separatism, which are an important part of people's identity.”

Historical Context: Civil Rights advocates have raised concerns regarding expressions of white nationalism to Facebook’s upper echelons. Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Washington, DC-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told the Associated Press that Facebook’s move is long overdue as the country continues to deal with the grip of hate and the increase in violent white supremacy.”

“We need the tech sector to do its part to combat these efforts,” AP quoted Clarke, whose organization was consulted by Facebook — alongside Civil Rights groups and experts in race relations in the US, Europe, and Africa — to make a meaningful difference between white nationalism and separatism from white supremacy and organized hate groups.

Beneath the Surface: Facebook’s move comes two weeks after an Australian man in his 20s opened fire on Muslims in two mosques located in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50 people and leaving 50 more wounded. The suspect broadcast the carnage through Facebook Live and wrote a 74-page rambling manifesto that contained white nationalist ideas. The manuscript is a glaring example of the rise of white supremacists in places like South Africa, Britain, or Italy.

Last Wednesday, a man who was convicted of murder in a 2017 car attack at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges. The gruesome event, according to AP, led tech companies to adopt a draconian stance regarding the promotion of hate and violence. What’s Next: Facebook’s decision should inspire other social media platforms to take tougher measures in the future. “Facebook’s update should move Twitter, YouTube, and Amazon to act urgently to stem the growth of white nationalist ideologies, which find space on platforms to spread the violent ideas and rhetoric that inspired the tragic attacks witnessed in Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, and now Christchurch,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director Color of Change, a racial justice organization.

In a separate statement, Robinson expressed concerns about the involvement of conservative organizations such as the Heritage Foundation in investigating instances of “liberal bias,” which could at the same time undermine the protection of some disadvantaged groups.

“By centering a conservative organization like The Heritage Foundation, which has a history of exploiting anti-Black narratives to create discriminatory policy and peddling Islamophobia, Facebook is ignoring the voices of hundreds of social justice advocates who feel unsafe online,” he said.

About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review, Mic.com, Public Radio International, and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and US politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.