Facebook’s internal policies allow users to advocate for white nationalism, but not white supremacy. What’s the difference? Facebook seems to believe that’s up for debate. But Facebook is reportedly reviewing its policies on white supremacy after outcry from civil rights groups.
As Motherboard reports, leaked documents from inside Facebook show that the company allows content on its platform that’s considered to be white nationalism and white separatism. Advocating for white supremacy is banned, but most scholars on the topic believe that white nationalism and separatism are fundamentally the same as white supremacy. “There is no distinction between white nationalism and white supremacy,” Keegan Hankes, senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told Gizmodo in a statement.
Civil rights groups like Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law wrote Facebook a letter on September 6 explaining that its policy on white nationalism was “misguided, inconsistent, and dangerous.” Now it appears that policy is being reviewed by Facebook.
From the letter:
These documents—which are used to instruct and guide Facebook’s content moderators—draw an arbitrary line between white supremacy, white nationalism and white separatism, despite glaring internal inconsistencies. Facebook defines white supremacy as a “racist ideology based upon the belief that white people are superior in many ways to people of other races and that therefore white people should be dominant over other races.” The company describes white nationalists as “believ[ing] that white people should maintain their majority in majority-white countries, as well as political and economic dominance” and “oppos[ing] mass-immigration and multiculturalism, as they see them as threats to white identity,” yet conclude that white nationalism “doesn’t seem to be *always *associated* with racism (at least not explicitly).
According to Motherboard, Facebook is worried that banning white separatist groups would negatively impact other separatist movements around the world like black separatist groups. Black separatism was more popular in America at the turn of the 20th century, with activists like Marcus Garvey who advocated for black people returning to Africa in the 1920s.
The debate over separatism versus supremacy follows recent revelations out of Britain and Australia that didn’t get much attention in the rest of the world. Australia’s public broadcaster ran an episode of the show Four Corners last month that included hidden camera footage of British Facebook content moderation training. The TV episode revealed that publishing something like “Fuck off back to your own country” when referring to Muslim immigrants was acceptable, but if the comment was referring to Muslims in general that this was not acceptable and would be deleted. The rationale was that talking about immigrants in particular was political speech while referring to Muslims more generally was hate speech.
Racists on Facebook and Twitter tend to prefer the term “nationalist” because it’s so often used in polite company here in the year 2018. Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former advisor and a man who allegedly didn’t want his children to go to school with Jews, will use the term “economic nationalist.” But he’s not just concerned with the economy. Bannon has made it abundantly clear that he’s a white supremacist as well, recently proclaiming that Trump followers should now embrace terms like racist.
“Facebook is distinguishing white supremacy, white nationalism, and white separatism by a mere technicality,” civil rights advocacy group Color of Change told Gizmodo in a statement. “Facebook fails to recognize that advocacy for the United States to be a white state, or one that explicitly prioritizes the interests of white people, is neither new nor passive [...] From direct threats of violence to general statements of support, Facebook should not be making exceptions for any form of white supremacist, nationalist, or separatist speech.”
Facebook did not immediately reply to a request for comment from Gizmodo. We’ll update this article if we hear back.
Update, 2:28pm: Facebook just sent Gizmodo the following statement:
We regularly meet with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, as well as other groups, to maintain an open dialogue on a variety of issues, including our policies on hate speech. We’ve received a letter from the Lawyers’ Committee and are reviewing the specific policy referenced.