Facebook has banned praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism on its social media platforms, including Instagram, in a move that comes in the wake of a massacre at two mosques in New Zealand earlier this month.
“It’s clear that these concepts are deeply linked to organised hate groups and have no place on our services,” a company statement said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday she welcomed Facebook’s decision.
“Arguably these categories should always fall within the community guidelines of hate speech, but nevertheless it’s positive the clarification has now been made in the wake of the attack in Christchurch,” she said at a press conference.
Facebook policies already banned posts endorsing white supremacy as part of the company’s prohibition against spewing hate at people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity and religion.
The ban had not applied to expressions of white nationalism, Facebook said, because it linked such expressions with broader concepts of nationalism or political independence – such as American pride or Basque separatism.
‘Will not tolerate’
But conversations with civil rights groups and academics in recent months led Facebook to conclude that white nationalism and separatism cannot be meaningfully separated from white supremacy and organised hate groups, the statement said.
Christchurch attacks: Should Facebook be commended or condemned? (2:41)
“Going forward, while people will still be able to demonstrate pride in their ethnic heritage, we will not tolerate praise or support for white nationalism and separatism,” Facebook said.
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a Washington-based legal advocacy group, welcomed the move.
“This is long overdue as the country continues to deal with the grip of hate and the increase in violent white supremacy,” she said. “We need the tech sector to do its part to combat these efforts.”
Though Facebook did not tie the announcement to any specific event and said it had been working on the change for three months, the statement came less than two weeks after the company received widespread criticism related to the mosque shootings in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. The shooting suspect was able to broadcast the massacre on live video on Facebook, and at least 50 Muslim worshippers were killed in the gun assaults.
Australian-born Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old suspected white supremacist, has been charged with one murder following the attack and is likely to face more charges.
Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right, said Facebook’s new ban could limit the spread of white nationalist rhetoric, but he doubted it would rid the world of the ideology.
“We’ll see if they are able to enforce this,” Potok was quoted as saying by AFP news agency. “There are thousands of white nationalist posts on Facebook every day. They weren’t able to stop the Christchurch video, so it will be challenging to do this.”
Christchurch attacks: Islamophobia in the media
The New Zealand killings demonstrated the global reach of a white nationalist movement that preaches an imagined “European” ideal, rejects immigration and shares often vicious threats over the internet.
Some analysts say it is a cohesive movement bound together online that stretches across Europe into Russia and has a wide following in the US and Canada.
They say it poses as much of an international threat as violence inspired by groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS) – and they add that the threat is even greater in the US, where white nationalist attacks have outpaced those by other groups for years.
According to some researchers, white nationalists have been emboldened by the rise of politicians espousing traditionalist views and a tough line on immigration – from Marine Le Pen in France and Viktor Orban in Hungary to Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump.
Facebook said it would also start connecting people who search for terms associated with white supremacy to an organisation called Life After Hate, which is focused on helping people leave hate groups.
Al Jazeera and news agencies