This combination of file photo shows minister Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, in Tehran, Iran, on Nov. 8, 2018, left, and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in Washington on Sept. 5, 2018, right. Facebook has banned Louis Farrakhan, Alex Jones and others from its platform and from Instagram saying they violated its ban against hate and violence. The company said Thursday it has also banned extreme right-wing figures Paul Nehlen, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson, Laura Loomer and the conservative conspiracy site Infowars. Jones was already banned from Facebook but not from Instagram. (AP Photo)

Facebook bans ‘dangerous individuals’ cited for hate speech

Facebook has banned Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson and Laura Loomer, among others

After years of pressure to crack down on hate and bigotry, Facebook has banned Louis Farrakhan, Alex Jones and other extremists, saying they violated its ban on “dangerous individuals.”

The company also removed right-wing personalities Paul Nehlen, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson and Laura Loomer, along with Jones’ site, Infowars, which often posts conspiracy theories. The latest bans apply to both Facebook’s main service and to Instagram and extend to fan pages and other related accounts.

Decried as censorship by several of those who got the axe, the move signals a renewed effort by the social media giant to remove people and groups promoting objectionable material such as hate, racism and anti-Semitism.

Removing some of the best-known figures of the U.S. political extreme takes away an important virtual megaphone that Facebook has provided the likes of Jones, Yiannopoulos and others over the years. But it does not address what might be done with lesser known figures and those who stay on the margins of what Facebook’s policies allow.

READ MORE: ‘Infowars’ host Jones says his on-air persona not a ‘trick’

Critics praised the move but said there is more to be done on both Facebook and Instagram.

“We know that there are still white supremacists and other extremist figures who are actively using both platforms to spread their hatred and bigotry,” said Keegan Hankes, senior research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups in the U.S.

Dipayan Ghosh, a former Facebook executive and an internet policy expert at Harvard, said the ban isn’t as big a step as Facebook appears to be painting it — it’s just enforcing its existing policy.

“There will always be more purveyors of hate speech that try to come on these platforms,” he said. “Will advocates have to push year after year just to get (a handful of) individuals off? At this rate it seems likely. And this doesn’t address the problem of what happens at the margins.”

Facebook has previously suspended Jones from its flagship service temporarily; this suspension is permanent and includes Instagram. Twitter has also banned Loomer, Jones and Yiannopoulos, though Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam long known for provocative comments widely considered anti-Semitic, still had an account Thursday. So did Watson, who rose to popularity as editor-at-large at Infowars and has nearly a million followers on the site.

Facebook said the newly banned accounts violated its policy against dangerous individuals and organizations. The company says it has always banned people or groups that proclaim a violent or hateful mission or are engaged in acts of hate or violence, regardless of political ideology.

It added that when it bans someone under this policy, the company also prohibits anyone else from praising or supporting them.

In this case, though, the company said people can speak positively about the six banned individuals as long as what they’re saying otherwise complies with Facebook policies.

For years, social media companies have been under pressure from civil rights groups and other activists to clamp down on hate speech on their services. Following the deadly white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Google, Facebook and PayPal began banishing extremist groups and individuals who identified as or supported white supremacists.

A year later, widespread bans of Jones and Infowars reflected a more aggressive enforcement of policies against hate speech. But Facebook instituted only a 30-day suspension (though Twitter banned him permanently).

It is not clear what events led to Thursday’s announcement. In a statement, Facebook merely said, “The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today.”

READ MORE: Facebook extends ban on hate speech to ‘white nationalists’

Last month, it extended its ban on hate speech to prohibit the promotion and support of white nationalism and white separatism. It had previously allowed such material even though it has long banned white supremacists.

Asked to comment on the bans, Yiannopoulos emailed only “You’re next.”

Jones reacted angrily Thursday during a live stream of his show on his Infowars website.

“They didn’t just ban me. They just defamed us. Why did Zuckerberg even do this?” Jones said, referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Jones called himself a victim of “racketeering” by “cartels.”

“There’s a new world now, man, where they’re banning everybody and then they tell Congress nobody is getting banned,” he said.

Watson, meanwhile, tweeted that he was not given a reason and that he “broke none of their rules.”

“Hopefully, other prominent conservatives will speak out about me being banned, knowing that they are next if we don’t pressure the Trump administration to take action,” he wrote.

Farrakhan, Nehlen and Loomer did not immediately return messages for comment.

Harvard’s Ghosh said kicking off individuals with big followings, such as Jones, goes against Facebook’s commercial interest.

“As soon as they kick Alex Jones or Laura Loomer off their platform, it immediately ticks of a huge number of people,” he said.

___

Associated Press Writers Tali Arbel in New York and Michael Kunzelman in Silver Spring, Maryland, contributed to this story.

___

Barbara Ortutay, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Skeena Bulkley Valley MP calling for halt on sport fishing licenses to out-of-province fishers

Bachrach and Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns co-signed the letter to the Minister of Fisheries

Kitimat LNG Canada worker tests positive for COVID-19

The company announced the positive case to its workers on March 28

Bachrach to donate salary hike to community organizations

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP among growing list of MPs giving raise away amid economic crisis

Governments close doors in Lakes District area

Employees of companies across the province have been laid off in the… Continue reading

School is still out, but the Ministry has a plan—sort of

On March 27, the Ministry of Education released a long statement, and… Continue reading

VIDEO: ‘Used gloves and masks go in the garbage,’ says irked B.C. mayor

Health officials have said single-use gloves won’t do much to curb the spread of COVID-19

Sex workers face new risks during COVID-19 pandemic

‘Desperation has kicked in’ for vulnerable, undocumented workers unable to access help

Unclear if Cowichan couple refusing to self-isolate will face penalty

No fines or charges have been laid to date, including Cowichan couple who won’t self isolate

COVID-19: Postponed surgeries will be done, B.C. health minister says

Contract with private surgical clinic to help clear backlog

Black Press Media ad sparks discussion about value of community newspapers

White Rock resident hopes front-page note shines light on revenue loss during COVID-19 crisis

Don’t stop going to the doctor, just do it virtually: B.C. association

Doctors encourage patients to access telephone, online visits

Businesses advised to prepare for federal, B.C. COVID-19 assistance

Canada Revenue Agency portal expected to open next week

‘Drive right through’: Haida Gwaii First Nation erects checkpoint for non-residents

Skidegate Band Council Emergency Operations Centre erected checkpoint on April 2

Most Read