For years, activists and media have supplied Facebook with a long menu of white supremacist groups to target, and to its credit, it’s finally budging a little (emphasis on little). Last week, Facebook deactivated nearly 200 accounts tied to the white supremacist groups the Proud Boys and the American Guard. Facebook is being proactive, and now it’s chosen to go after...uh...skinheads. All skinheads, be they anti-fascist, anti-racist, or just ska fans.
Various outlets have reported that, in a sweeping Monday night raid, Facebook suspended hundreds of skinhead-associated accounts. OneZero reports that that included vocalist Clara Byrne from the ska/dub/reggae band Dakka Shanks and British music journalist Guy Shankland. Journalist Garry Bushell tweeted yesterday that Facebook “closed 100s of UK accounts with any link to skinhead culture.” A redditor hypothesized that Facebook even suspended people who’d merely liked or followed S.H.A.R.P., Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice, and people who followed streetpunk bands.
Most notably, they deplatformed Neville Staple of The Specials, whose case is a perfect example of Facebook’s misunderstanding of subculture. The Specials were foundational in the 2 Tone genre, which, Pitchfork has noted, embraced diversity against a rise in white nationalism and attracted an early skinhead following before racists co-opted the culture. “Please look into things before doing a general cull,” Staple tweeted at Facebook yesterday. “Unity runs through the veins of me & @SugaryStaple plus all our 2Tone Ska community’s veins!” Neville’s wife, artist Sugary Staple, was also suspended.
The Staples’ accounts have since been reinstated. When asked by Gizmodo why they were removed, a Facebook spokesperson pointed to Vice President of Integrity (Project Management) Guy Rosen’s afternoon tweet, stating that skinhead-affiliated accounts were “mistakenly logged out” while trying to remove “several networks of bad actors this week.” The company told Gizmodo that Neville Staple’s profile page was one of those involved and apologized for the error. They not elaborate further on how the Staples became involved in the networks of bad actors.
OneZero, which reviewed Facebook’s communications, said that Facebook asked some users with deactivated accounts to share their photo ID, which it has lately started checking in cases of suspected inauthentic behavior. That includes evading enforcement under Facebook’s Community Standards. Facebook has been overly blunt with the “inauthentic behavior” banhammer in the past. In 2018, the company removed pages promoting a legitimate anti-“Unite the Right 2.0" rally, which did indeed involve an inauthentic admin (unbeknownst to fellow organizers), but Facebook opted to toss the entire legitimate organizing effort that stemmed from it.
Facebook’s internal, unprompted decision to target skinheads says more about its political cowardice than a desire to wipe out dangerous groups. The company has, for years, kowtowed to political bullies, even making internal top-level decisions to preserve propaganda on its platform to appease conservatives. It’s taken years for Facebook to de-platform the American Guard, which was seen brandishing race war symbols along with Trump supporters in 2017. And despite numerous alarms from media and advocacy groups about pro-gun pages supporting an armed uprising, the company decided last week that those can stay, but Facebook will just stop actively promoting them.
This post has been updated to include Facebook’s statement.