Facebook has banned thousands of individuals and organizations allegedly involved in terrorism, according to a Tuesday report by the Intercept, as part of a sprawling blacklist called Dangerous Individuals and Organizations (DIO) that appears to mirror the interests of the U.S. government and military.
Facebook’s list, a snapshot of which was published by the site, reportedly includes well over 4,000 individuals and organizations falling categories like hate, crime, terrorism, militarized social movements, and violent non-state actors. Users who discuss these individuals or groups may end up penalized by the social network’s moderators according to a three-tiered system that Facebook announced in June, which determines under what circumstances DIOs can be discussed on the site.
For example, Tier 1 includes those who cause “serious offline harm,” such as organizing violence against civilians, advocating for harm based on protected characteristics, or involvement in organized crime. Facebook removes “praise, substantive support, and representation” of Tier 1 groups and figures, as well as “violating violent events” that might be committed by them. This tier includes terrorists.
Tier 2 includes “Violent Non-State Actors” such as armed rebels in the Syrian Civil War, for which Facebook will allow limited praise for nonviolent actions but remove “all substantive support and representation” or “any praise of these groups’ violent activities.” Tier 3 is the least severe and faces the fewest restrictions. It is comprised of entities Facebook has determined violate its policies on hate speech and dangerous organizations, or demonstrate an intent to “commit offline violence” on a foreseeable timeline, but who “have not necessarily engaged in violence to date or advocated for violence against others based on their protected characteristics.” Any individual or group on any of the tiers is banned.
The Intercept obtained the full DIO list and found that 70% of Tier 1 is designated as terror-related and “overwhelmingly consists of Middle Eastern and South Asian organizations and individuals.” Others on that tier include criminal organizations like street gangs and drug cartels who are “predominantly Black and Latino,” the site wrote.
Tier 1 also includes 500 hate groups, including over 250 white supremacist groups, but the Intercept reported many other “predominantly white right-wing militia groups that seem similar to the hate groups” are placed in Tier 3. This category includes the militarized social movements, of which there are nearly 1,000.The Intercept wrote this category is “mostly right-wing American anti-government militias, which are virtually entirely white,” as well as conspiracy movements like QAnon. That section offers a look at the scale of the militia problem the company claimed to be cracking down on starting in August 2020.
All told, 53.7% of the list published by the Intercept is classified as terrorism, 23.3% are militarized social movements, 17% are hate groups, 4.9% are criminal, and a tiny 1% are violent non-state actors. As the Verge noted, when Facebook designates a DIO, it can have a significant and widespread impact as potentially thousands of groups and pages are removed.
The DIO list seems to take many of its cues from the State Department’s list of officially sanctioned terrorist groups, a roster that includes a large list of individuals and organizations that sometimes have only tangential connections to foreign terrorism, but is largely devoid of white supremacists.
This seems to explain Facebook’s fixation on certain groups and comparatively light touch on others, which the Intercept noted could constrain debate on the site as to whether, say, they really are dangerous (or whether, say, the U.S. government should embark on ill-advised wars against them). The list also contains insights into why two anarchist publications, Crimethinc and It’s Going Down, were banned—they’re both categorized under the category of militarized social movement and sub-category of “armed militias.” Both groups denied they are anything but opinion and news outlets to the Intercept.
“When a major, global platform chooses to align its policies with the United States—a country that has long exercised hegemony over much of the world (and particularly, over the past twenty years, over many predominantly Muslim countries), it is simply recreating those same power differentials and taking away the agency of already-vulnerable groups and individuals,” Jillian York, the director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the Intercept.
On several occasions, Facebook’s supposedly independent Oversight Board has issued recommendations such as publishing the DIO list in its entirety for transparency purposes and coming up with clearer rules. Facebook’s policy director for counter-terrorism and dangerous organizations Brian Fishman told the Intercept that the list hasn’t been published in part to prevent the listed groups from finding loopholes.
“This is an adversarial space, so we try to be as transparent as possible while also prioritizing security, limiting legal risks, and preventing opportunities for groups to get around our rules,” Fishman told the site.
“We don’t want terrorists, hate groups, or criminal organizations on our platform, which is why we ban them and remove content that praises, represents, or supports them,” he added. “A team of more than 350 specialists at Facebook is focused on stopping these organizations and assessing emerging threats.”