Facebook ban on white nationalism too narrow, say auditors

Company policy prohibits praise or support for specific term ‘white nationalism’

Facebook’s new policy banning white nationalism from its site has been undercut by the company’s decision to ignore content that does not use the term “white nationalism”, according to an external audit.

The auditors, appointed by Facebook in 2018 to oversee its goals of “advancing civil rights on our platform”, said Facebook’s overly narrow implementation of its own rules was hampering moderation.

“Facebook’s current white nationalism policy is too narrow, because it prohibits only explicit praise, support or representation of the terms ‘white nationalism’ or ‘white separatism’”, the report says. “The narrow scope of the policy leaves up content that expressly espouses white nationalist ideology without using the term ‘white nationalist’. As a result, content that would cause the same harm is permitted to remain on the platform.”

White nationalism and white separatism were previously allowed on Facebook as the company considered only white “supremacy” to be in breach of its hate speech policies. However, in March 2019 it updated its rules to ban the explicit praise, support or representation of the former two ideologies as well.

Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, said in response to the audit: “We’re addressing this by identifying hate slogans and symbols connected to white nationalism and white separatism to better enforce our policy.

“We also recently updated our policies so Facebook isn’t used to organise events that intimidate or harass people based on their race, religion or other parts of their identity. We now ban posts from people who intend to bring weapons anywhere to intimidate or harass others, or who encourage people to do the same. Civil rights leaders first flagged this trend to us, and it’s exactly the type of content our policies are meant to protect against.”

Sandberg announced a new project to treat the 2020 US census “like an election – with people, policies and technology in place to protect against census interference.”

She said: “We’re building a team dedicated to these census efforts and introducing a new policy in the fall that protects against misinformation related to the census. We’ll enforce it using artificial intelligence. We’ll also partner with non-partisan groups to help promote proactive participation in the census.”

Madihha Ahussain, of Muslim Advocates, a civil rights group, said that the audit report “shows that on issues regarding content moderation and the increased threat of white nationalist violence, the company has failed to take meaningful action. The murder of 51 Muslims in Christchurch, broadcast all over the world on Facebook Live, made it clear that this is a life and death matter. Still, the company has yet to take serious action to protect our community.”

Ahussain said the report showed that the only way Facebook could achieve the “bold structural change” she felt was necessary was to start with the company’s board. She called for the removal of Mark Zuckerberg as chair of the board and for Sandberg’s resignation from the board.

“It is clear that Facebook’s leadership continues to fail on this front,” she said. “The update today confirms that demands for reforms to Facebook’s board are still necessary.”


Alex Hern

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Facebook denies pro-Brexit bias
If you were ‘in favour of leaving the EU’, Facebook wanted you to tell people. Remaining, not so much

Alex Hern

15, Jun, 2016 @7:46 AM

Article image
Facebook is building yet another camera app
The latest app will attempt to reverse a decline in personal sharing of images and videos, according to reports

Alex Hern

26, Apr, 2016 @12:34 PM

Article image
Facebook stops advertisers illegally discriminating by race
Social network will still allow targeting based on ‘ethnic affinity’ of users in domains other than housing, employment and credit

Alex Hern

09, Feb, 2017 @9:57 AM

Article image
Facebook launches Snapchat-style disappearing messages, again
Disappearing messages launched alongside new encryption feature, ‘secret conversations’

Alex Hern

11, Jul, 2016 @11:24 AM

Article image
Facebook to curb microtargeting in political advertising
Firm considering to raise amout of targeted people from 100 to ‘a few thousands’

Alex Hern

22, Nov, 2019 @6:50 PM

Article image
Facebook corporate network hack discovered by security researcher
Penetration testing unearths backdoor installed on Facebook’s company servers had been logging employee credentials and exposing security

Samuel Gibbs

25, Apr, 2016 @10:20 AM

Article image
Facebook denies censoring conservative stories from trending topics
Social network has found no evidence that allegations it ignores news from right-wing sites are true, says head of search

Alex Hern

10, May, 2016 @8:35 AM

Article image
Facebook to investigate claims its algorithms are discriminatory
‘Equity and inclusion’ teams to be assess Facebook and Instagram algorithms for bias

Alex Hern UK technology editor

22, Jul, 2020 @3:46 PM

Article image
Apple accuses Facebook of 'disregard for user privacy'
Criticism made as Apple pushes ahead with transparency feature disliked by advertisers

Alex Hern UK technology editor

20, Nov, 2020 @12:48 PM

Article image
Facebook usage falling after privacy scandals, data suggests
Actions such as likes and shares down nearly 20%, though user numbers still growing

Alex Hern Technology editor

20, Jun, 2019 @3:31 PM