MENLO PARK, CA — Mass shootings, mass casualties, mass Neo-Nazi rhetoric, hate mongering, obscenity-laced comments — Facebook announced Wednesday that it has seen and heard enough of the growing surge in sentiment of white nationalism and separatism that has plagued the nation in the last few years.
Beginning next week, the Menlo Park-based company will implement a ban and physically remove such items on Facebook and Instagram — in a maneuver that long matches its long-standing intolerance and growing impatience with those who use the social media platform as a means to stir up hate.
“Our policies have long prohibited hateful treatment of people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity or religion – and that has always included white supremacy. We didn’t originally apply the same rationale to expressions of white nationalism and separatism because we were thinking about broader concepts of nationalism and separatism – things like American pride and Basque separatism, which are an important part of people’s identity,” the company’s news bulletin read. “But over the past three months, our conversations with members of civil society and academics who are experts in race relations around the world have confirmed that white nationalism and separatism cannot be meaningfully separated from white supremacy and organized hate groups.”
White nationalists espouse white supremacist or white separatist ideologies, often focusing on the alleged inferiority of nonwhites, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. White separatism is a form of white supremacy that emphasizes the idea that white people should exist separately from all non-white races, which they view as inferior, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Facebook combed through “hate-oriented” organizations and others as defined by its Dangerous Individuals & Organizations policy to reveal and strike down those who take pride in their heritage and turn it into something that more resembles an evil vehicle meant to single out, overthrow, eradicate or conquer a minority of some sort.
The company called on machine-learning and artificial intelligence to beef up its efforts to tracking material from hate-inspired terrorist groups. The job seems monumental based on the traffic Facebook gets. But this is where a machine can do much of the job with ease and thrive on a task that may take an army to accomplish, one South Bay business leader pointed out.
“That’s exactly the benefit of (artificial intelligence) and a machine learning tool – to thrive on repetitive, data-rich analysis that’s hard for human beings to pick (through),” Peter Leroe Munoz, Silicon Valley Leadership Group vice president of technology and innovation, told Patch.
“This is when (this technology) really shines and can be beneficial,” he said.
Filters “can certainly be used,” and from there, subjective posts may involve human beings at a higher level of scrutiny. Case in point, a machine may grab and take down a post that may say: “I want to kill Muslims.” But if another says: “I like being white,” the ambiguity may command and require a person to intervene with the question of intent.
Then, there’s the whole matter of legality in whether the removal of posts will end up being challenged in court based on free speech.
To that, the Silicon Valley business leader noted: “They must have had a lot of people look into this. I’m sure they thought of the legal ramifications.”
Nonetheless, San Jose State University journalism professor Richard Craig believes the company will probably face legal challenges related to free speech.
“The tricky part,” as he describes it involves the nature of Facebook developed for all to use as “a venue for free speech.” When it starts opposing what is being said, its gets “into shaky legal ground.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against hate speech if it “incites violence,” but “short of that” is another story.
“It hasn’t backed the notion of hate speech (in itself). It’s going to be tested, once they put the software on this. Racial slurs have been protected,” Craig told Patch. “We say you gotta love free speech because some things could turn your stomach.”
The issue becomes exacerbated by development of social media as a platform of the “wild west” where a user is asked to “have at it,” he notes.
“It’s not going to be easy for them to escape a thing like this,” Craig said, adding the company may feel like “a visible target.”
But it’s been said social media is a work in progress.
With Facebook, the well-intended intent for social media goodwill doesn’t end with this latest endeavor.
People searching for a way out of that line of thinking will be directed to Life After Hate, a reformer organization founded by former violent extremists that provides crisis intervention, education, support groups and outreach.
A Facebook user is expected to notice bulletins related to the intent to weed out the hate. The notices may start with “Keeping Our Community Safe.”