Facebook is removing a host of prominent far-right and/or anti-Semitic political figures like Louis Farrakhan, Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson, and Laura Loomer from both Facebook and Instagram, the company announced Thursday.
Many of the influencers impacted by the ban have already been banned from other platforms, like Yiannopoulos who was banned from Twitter in 2016. Jones had been exclusively using Instagram since a ban from several major platforms last year. Loomer was banned from Twitter last year for spreading misinformation about Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar. Farrakhan had a video removed from Facebook last year that compared Jewish people to termites.
Also being banned are the pages for Jones’ Infowars site and Paul Nehlen, a white supremacist politician who mounted an unsuccessful bid last year for Paul Ryan’s seat.
“We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology,” a Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today.”
The ban will affect both Facebook and Instagram. According to reports, the Facebook cited its policies against “dangerous Individuals and Organizations” in its decision to ban the accounts. It’s unclear what prompted Thursday’s ban.
Last month, an Instagram spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that one of Laura Loomer’s Instagram stories violated their hate speech policy. In the story, Loomer referred to Muslims as a “muzzles,” called Islam “a cancer on society,” and said Muslims “should not be able to seek positions of political office in this country.” The story was part of a larger wave of far-right abuse against Omar for comments she made about the 9/11 attacks.
Loomer’s story was posted only a day after Facebook announced sweeping changes to guidelines regarding problematic content. Facebook said it would be reducing the spread of inappropriate posts, even ones that didn’t necessarily go against Instagram’s community guidelines.
“For example, a sexually suggestive post will still appear in Feed if you follow the account that posts it, but this type of content may not appear for the broader community in Explore or hashtag pages,” the announcement stated.
In another recent caption on Instagram, Loomer wrote that Omar should be charged with treason for bringing “dangerous terrorists” into the US.
Thursday’s ban will not restrict the speech of other people who might praise the banned influencers, however.
Facebook’s ban was criticized because of what appeared to be an embargo agreed to by publications like the Atlantic, the Verge, CNN, and the Washington Post. The outlets all went live with almost identical articles about the ban Thursday afternoon. In many cases, their stories appeared before influencers like Yiannopoulos or Loomer actually lost their accounts. Both Yiannopoulos and Loomer were able to actually post the news of their own bans from Instagram on their Instagram pages. Loomer began directing her followers to find her on Telegram.
The use of an embargo this week isn’t unlike a similar move Facebook used last year to announce their election war room during the Brazilian presidential election. Outlets like CNN released their articles about Facebook’s war room and their dedication to election integrity on the same morning Brazil’s largest newspaper published an investigation that revealed local marketing firms have been buying bundles of phone numbers and using them to mass-WhatsApp voters anti-leftist propaganda.
Facebook’s attempts to draw a line about what is and isn’t extremism are being scrutinized more heavily after a gunman went live on Facebook earlier this year before walking into a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, and killing dozens of people. The suspect in Saturday’s synagogue shooting near San Diego also appears to have tried to livestream his own attack on Facebook.
Following the Christchurch attack, Facebook announced that it would be banning white nationalist content from its platform and Instagram. It also plans to block white nationalist, white separatist, and white supremacist content, and to direct users who attempt to post such content to the website of the nonprofit Life After Hate, which works to de-radicalize people drawn into hate groups.
A representative from Facebook also attended congressional hearings this week on the rise of white nationalism and hate crimes in the US and the role social media has played in radicalization.