Report: Facebook A Haven For Hate Groups

By Caitlyn Martin
September 17, 2009 | Comments: 24

Just over a year ago I reported on the work of Dr. Andre Oboler for O'Reilly News, who had written a report on how Google Earth was delivering overtly politically biased information. A combination of negative publicity and a libel suit filed against Google resulted in changes to Google Earth which resolved the issue. Dr. Oboler published a new report on Tuesday and this time he has targeted Facebook and with good reason. Despite a prohibition in the popular social networking website's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, it's terms of service, Facebook has remained a happy home for Holocaust denial and racist "white pride" groups.

Oboler's report notes that Facebook's terms regarding hate speech have been repeatedly watered down, most recently in a May, 2009 overhaul. Yet in the latest revision, dated August 28, 2009, there is still a very clear prohibition:

You will not post content that is hateful, threatening, pornographic, or that contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.
There is an additional prohibition which may well apply:
You will not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or discriminatory.
Dr. Oboler's report notes previous complaint by a grassroots Jewish organization, the JIDF (Jewish Internet Defense Force), who, in turn, noted laws against Holocaust denial:
The JIDF letter went into further detail noting that Holocaust denial is illegal in thirteen countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, and Switzerland. They also pointed out the strictness of laws in Germany, Austria, and Romania and that "any group that denies the occurrence of the Holocaust is violating the laws of these nations."

The JIDF also argued that "German law also outlaws anything associated with Nazism. So any group that has Nazi symbols and such should be taken down." In additional to national law the JIDF referred to European Union law and specifically Joint action/96/443/JHA,24 which requires countries to make Holocaust denial "punishable as a criminal offence."

Oboler adds:
Other countries, such as Australia and Canada, which do not specifically prohibit Holocaust denial still prohibit public hate speech.

[...]

Holocaust denial is a special case under international law. It is recognized as hate speech internationally. There are calls from the United Nations down for all efforts to be taken to eliminate Holocaust denial, which is both a serious defamation against the Jewish people and a tool to promote new hate against the Jewish people through conspiracy theories.

The Facebook pages in question do appear to violate the laws of at least 15 nations and the European Union as a whole. Despite clear prohibitions against hate and illegal, misleading or discriminatory activity Facebook continues to allow and indeed defend pages that violate it's own terms.

The problem goes beyond Holocaust denial motivated by and encouraging anti-Semitism. A May 12 article in Business Week noted:

Facebook has come under attack in the past for hosting anti-Gypsy groups. The site currently contains several groups defending "white pride."
I don't think many people would doubt that "white pride" pages on Facebook or elsewhere on the internet are overtly racist. As such they clearly violate the prohibition against "discriminatory" content and yet, much like the Holocaust denial pages, they continue to be hosted on Facebook.

Dr. Oboler also points out that in the United States the First Amendment guarantee of free speech is not absolute:

The first is that U.S. laws governing protected speech do not apply to private spaces such as Facebook. Any concerns Facebook employees or managers have about the first amendment are misplaced, or are being deliberately misused to confuse the public.
In other words, it is up to Facebook to decide what to include and exclude from their privately owned website. The First Amendment doesn't force Facebook or anyone else to host content they consider objectionable. Another limitation which may apply more to some of the "white pride" content than to Holocaust denial are laws in the U.S. prohibiting incitement to violence. These laws have repeatedly been upheld as Constitutional by the courts. Libel and defamation are also not protected speech in the United States. Despite these facts Facebook has repeatedly defended these pages on the basis of free speech and the First Amendment. Dr. Oboler also believes that the First Amendment can't be used as a shield against the laws of other nations or international law since the free speech protections do not apply to private space.

Dr. Oboler claims that the issue is a moral and ethical question for Facebook. He also notes that negative publicity, unflattering press, anger in the blogosphere, and all forms of public pressure have failed to motivate Facebook to take action against what is clearly and undeniably hate speech.

While Dr. Oboler's new report highlights the problem without proposing remedies, he did advocate a specific solution in an op-ed piece published in The Guardian (UK) on July 13:

The internet requires regulation, just as film, television and computer games do. If companies such as Facebook abdicate that responsibility, it suggests government intervention is needed to prevent an internet-powered surge in racial hatred. The spread of racism and hate is not something that can be left to chance or the whims of the private sector. Working against hate, bullying and racism must be part of the price companies pay when they offer an online social environment as their product.
Advocating government mandated censorship of the internet generally brings out the most unusual of political alliances in the United States. It is opposed by everyone from the ACLU on the left to conservative evangelical Christian groups on the right. Censorship is a dangerous and slippery slope. Even is such a law could pass Constitutional muster, which is questionable at best, the same law the Dr. Oboler would use to ban Holocaust denial could be used by to try and ban material that Dr. Oboler would undoubtedly support. It would open the door to litigation to attempt to apply such a law to limit all sorts of speech that one group or another may find objectionable. That requires the government to spend time and resources defining what is and is not hate, something most Americans simply do not trust government to do.

For now the only alternative is to continue to publicize the issue, something Dr. Oboler has been very effective in doing. As his work to highlight the problems with Google Earth plainly demonstrated, such efforts may take years to be effective. In the end sufficient public outcry, negative publicity, the threat of boycott and legal action using existing laws may be sufficient, in time, to bring about change without creating new and possibly onerous law.


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24 Comments

I suggest that you consider that if "White Pride" is racist, then perhaps "Gay Pride" is homophobic, and "Jewish Pride" would be antisemitic...and so on. I suggest that this type of discussion becomes ridiculous and denies people the right to be proud of what they are, be it Jew, White, Black or any other. The tags of Racism, antisemitism and any other 'ism should be reserved for anyone who actively denigrates another group, not one who takes pride in his own.

@Chris: The term "white pride" has long been associated with neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups. To deny that the term is associated with the most extreme forms of racism is ignorant at best and is NOT the same as other pride movements. You are defending the indefensible.

Thank you for bringing this reality to my attention. I have family members that are the targets of neo-nazi and other hate groups, both here in USA and internationally.

There is no question that I will advise them of this status with FaceBook, and stand against any use FaceBook personally.

It is unfortunate that many Americans, as noted by previous commenter refuse to apply hate speech (and many violent actions) to their rightful owners - even as these vile people use words like "white pride" as code for insanity and vitriol.

W. Anderson

Caitlyn --

You might as well recommend Facebook's policy be "You cannot post anything that could be considered controversial by any other person on the planet."

In the U.S. GLBT posters regularly say things that a Christian would consider hateful.

Evangelist Christians regularly say things that a Mormon would consider hateful.

And Mormons regularly say things that GLBT posters consider hateful, thus bringing us full circle.

Ban all GLBT, Christian and Mormon groups from Facebook?

Outside the U.S., you're asking Facebook to make politically based value decisions. No Iranian should claim that the holocaust didn't happen, because holocaust denial is illegal in Germany. But can an Armenian group claim that Turks committed genocide against them, when it is illegal to make such claims in Turkey?

No wonder Facebook doesn't wade into that mess.

I have no doubt in my mind that if a very vocal and politically active population of Christians were not constantly attempting to deprive the GLBT community of their civil rights, that the some in the GLBT community wouldn't have anything to say that might offend Christians.

I realize that not all Christians take part in this sort of persecution, but very few of them speak out against it either.

@Dave --

Yes, I see your point. But you missed my point entirely.

Why is it **Facebook's** responsibility to choose?

Many people in the Christian community feel that the GLBT community is trying to legislate away their rights to practice their religion. (i.e. any group that discriminates based on sexual orientation can't get state certification to do things like run adoption agencies, which are very important to anti-abortion churches.)

Many people in the GLBT community feel that the Christian community is trying to legislate away their rights to enjoy equal protection under the law. (i.e. the whole gay marriage debate, and paradoxically adoption by gay couples.)

To a point, both arguments are true. There has been legislation that prevents Christian organizations from following their precepts, and preventing gay marriage does interfere with equal rights. You can also find faults with both arguments. I don't particularly care one way or another.

What I do care about is that by that logic, Facebook would have to ban anyone in either camp for promoting "hate."

Facebook isn't "harboring hate groups." They're allowing people to speak their mind. If an individual's Facebook wall or a group's page or discussion forum is truly "hate speech" under the law, then it can be sent to the courts just like any other public or semi-public forum. Of course that court needs jurisdiction -- so a Turkish court might have trouble bringing a European group to task for claiming that the Turks committed genocide against the Armenians. But that's why we have international legal agreements and treaties between governments.

Asking Facebook to censor these sorts of things puts Facebook into a value judgement position, essentially abdicating the court's responsibilities to Facebook.

Let people say what they want, and then let them suffer the consequences for it. Making a private company try to keep every single government or advocacy group happy is impossible.

@James: Actually, I think it is you who have missed the point. Issue advocacy isn't hate. Political debate isn't hate. I don't know anyone with half a brain, conservative, liberal, or anywhere in between, that doesn't recognize that white supremacist groups are engaged in hate speech and nothing more. The UN and most of the Western democracies in the world have determined that Holocaust denial is hate speech and anti-Semitism. To claim that somehow equates to preaching in a church or advocating legislation guaranteeing civil rights to the GLBT community is a form of moral equivocation I find clueless at best and, honestly, to be extremely disturbing.

As noted in the article, most of the Western world does have hate speech laws. Limiting hate speech is largely seen as a legitimate limitation on free speech outside the United States. There are people advocating similar laws here. If Facebook and others fail to act I feel that is where we are headed. I also fear that is a two-edged sword.

The popularity and success of Facebook and the influence the site has on people, particularly young people, do engender a special level of ethical and moral responsibility. I feel the outcry against the hate speech on Facebook is well justified.

If Facebook doesn't act calls like Dr.Oboler's for government mandated censorship will only grow in number and support. I disagree with censorship because I fear where it could lead. The only way to avoid it, IMNSHO, is to pressure Facebook into doing the right thing before the idea of such regulation gains popularity.

Needless to say I disagree with your claim that Facebook isn't harboring hatred. That is exactly what they are doing. What you call "speaking their mind" is far more than that. I find your defense of hate deeply disturbing.

"Needless to say I disagree with your claim that Facebook isn't harboring hatred. That is exactly what they are doing. What you call "speaking their mind" is far more than that. I find your defense of hate deeply disturbing."

I'll be mildly surprised if this gets past the moderator. I just hope they show it to you.

You cherry-picked white supremacist hate speech as an example of what's wrong with Facebook, but then expanded that to include all "hate speech" without really defining what that is. It's understandable because it is very difficult to define.

I cherry picked on my side too. I have been very careful to post examples of speech that I feel are protected, but are still considered by many people to be "hate speech" depending where they are on the political spectrum. If taking a very liberal definition of what freedom of speech/expression means I defend hate, well OK. I hear the ACLU is accused of defending hate too, so I'm in good company.

"To claim that somehow equates to preaching in a church or advocating legislation guaranteeing civil rights to the GLBT community is a form of moral equivocation I find clueless at best and, honestly, to be extremely disturbing."

And yet we have the Canadian CHRC with its section 13. That legislation **DOES** equate preaching in a church with hate crimes. Google `canada bishop "hate speech"`

Were the authors of section 13 setting about to criminalize the Catholic church? No, I am sure they had the best of intentions. Protecting minorities was one of the laudable goals of the legislation. Just as your offense at white supremacist groups on Facebook is well intentioned.

I am simply pointing out that you're asking Facebook to police it's content better than the law itself does. I am concerned that your well intentioned concerns would lead to a similar situation that the Canadians find themselves in -- with a hate crimes law that many Canadians now see is flawed, but it is such a political hot potato that fixing it will be a very difficult job.

So feel free to pressure Facebook, and then whatever other social networking site that hits your radar next. But be careful what you wish for -- you might get it.

@Caitlyn,
Your concerns are of consequence. From my perspective "1984" is on the horizon.

@Caitlyn,
I realize I said to little in the previous post. I do see that persons and groups engage in delusions of grandeur and hatred of others. They help insure conflict and bloodshed that will continue until the human race is extinct. White supremacists are belligerent fools. If they could rid the universe of everyone else they would turn on each other. They are not the only ones; history is replete with hatred, pogroms, genocides, brutality. It takes fewer to destroy than to build. There is only one human race and the cosmos would not miss us.


@caitlin

> To claim that somehow equates to preaching in a church

In fact I think this can be the very WORST form of hate speech. If a respected spiritual leader tells his congregation that Homosexuality is evil in the eyes of God is that not hateful?

I've always thought this is a very fine line - the whole hate speech thing. Everyone is entitled to their views; and if they truly want to believe that the Holocaust did not happen then I don't think we can stop them (we can not respect them and ignore them of course!). Similarly can we stop them discussing their views? Because when we do that where does it stop - if X country makes it illegal to call their leadership a prat does that mean sites like Facebook have to ban such talk? I know the distinction between there and white supremacy is massive - but there is plenty of ground between the 2 examples for some blurring.

Yes, we should legislate to stop people with hateful opinions from preaching to others and converting them. But then I've always said that about religion too and no one gets excited about that!

At the end of the day Holocaust denial is not illegal in a great many countries - sure it is hate speech (and really the whole Holocaust denial thing frustrates me) and sure we should actively try and combat it *personally*. But have Facebook remove it? Well that is complicated political narcissism.

As to White supremacy and white pride. This is such a difficult problem; because the idea of white pride is perfectly legitimate - however history has irrevocably linked it with racism and white supremacy. Whilst I am sure many of the racist groups could be ousted the question is, again, where to stop. A perfectly legitimate, legal and non-racist white pride group could fall under the purge; and then that is a step too far.

Rather tyhan sweeping statements and purges each group might need careful consideration. Such man power is not practical for a company Facebooks size - and while they have no legal requirement to do so there isn't much draw for them to start to remove this stuff.

So Im in agreement we need to guilt them into removing really hateful stuff: but at the same time we need to be careful that it doesn't come at the expense of sacrificing some freedoms.

Oh my this is fascinationg...

@Chris.. there is no logic in yr statement tho i think i know what yo attempted to demonstrate

@caitlin has great points as do Dave & others...

I wish only to make a brief point...: LEGITIMATE PRIDE GROUPS ARE GENERALLY BORN OUT OF NEED TO BRING AWARENESS TO ISSUES INVOLVING SUPPRESSION/DISCRIMINATION/INJUSTICES AFFECTING A PARTICULAR RACE/GENDER/ETHNICITY/REGION/FAITH/ORIENTATION..... and these folks are generally a minority who naturally find more of a voice when they connect with others as a GROUP for SUPPORT.

Never in written history have accomplishments of "whites" (esp white males) been overlooked... nor have laws suppressed them.

WHITES have never been overlooked or without power in every branch of society.

Historically & on the contrary, WHITE MEN have DOMINATED & HELD THE POWER in :
Entertainment Industry/News Media/Wall Street/Government/Corporate World/SCIENCE/Arts/Literature/JUDICIAL SYSTEM/ Technology/ BANKING/SPORTS/Academia/Text Books/Even Leadership roles in every popular religion **

So there is OBVIOUSLY no LEGITIMATE need for a WHITE PRIDE group as there is/have been for the other legit pride groups...

Get Real... the only true purpose of any group masquerading under the label of WHITE PRIDE is to promote "hate"...
~~~~
There is indeed a gray area regarding censorship vs freedom of speech guidelines vs responsible governing of content without denying basic rights.

Critical thinking & common sense must be used. It would be helpful if Facebook maybe posted an alert or Visible Icon that warned of extreme or questionable content for "Iffy" groups that encourage hate or harm. They certainly do not hesitate to filter & flag with warnings keywords in FB chat or messages or urls posted...

**(#s of Black males are increasing in IsIam )

Anyway.. no perfect current solutions. Should be interesting to see how TOS change or EULAs.

Bex

Caitlin, I find your responses to reasoned arguments such as James' to be unprofessional, defensive and extremely narrow-minded. I also find your writing to be mere rhetoric and it adds no value or new ideas to the topic at hand. You make a sweeping state with no evidence to back it up:"Facebook continues to allow and indeed defend pages that violate it's own terms."
Where and how does Facebook defend these pages and where is your evidence to back this statement up?
Next time, please write a professional piece rather than one fuelled by emotion and little research.

@Nilay: If you had bothered to follow the links I provided you would find the reports which do, indeed, backup my statements fully. I find your attack on me, claiming that I'm being "emotional" and somehow unprofessional and "narrow-minded" to be an attempt to dismiss something very disturbing and, in my view, indefensible. Trying to sound intellectual while defending hatred is nothing new. I get similar responses when I write about sexism in IT by men claiming it's not at all real as well. There's nothing original in your brand of dismissal.

Nobody forces you to read my "rhetoric" if you don't like it. However, you are not my editor and therefore you have no right to tell me what to write. I will continue to speak out on issues like this which I deem to be extremely important.

Thank you Caitlin for yet another defensive and emotional response. I have every right to tell you what to write, just like you every right to be rude to me and anyone else who challenges you. Learn to take criticism.

By the way, your so called 'links' are all references to parts of Andre's article (I can refer to him as Andre because I happen to know him personally). I was referring to a specific quote from your article where you say that Facebook actively defends hate pages. Show us where Facebook actually defends such pages. That is my point. Of course I don't condone hate speech, and of course you have the right to speak out on issues that are important to you. As a journalist however, you do not have the right to make sweeping statements like "facebook defends hate pages" without backing it up. Just because Facebook might not be taking the pages down does not mean that they are defending them. There is a big distinction and I think you need to think about that rather than wielding your pitchfork and gathering the mob. Censorship has much wider ramifications than just taking down the offensive material, it violates everyone's rights and that is why all aspects of issues such as this need to be carefully considered.

Nilay reality hurts doesn't it? That by not taking down the pages down does mean Facebook are in fact going against their own Terms Service defending and encouraging hate groups, comments and pages and with your defence of Facebook proves, you do in fact do condone hate speech,

@Nilay: Actually, no, you are not my editor so you do not have the right to tell me what to write. I also do take criticism. If I didn't I could have deleted your comments. I allowed them through even though I found them disrespectful and off base.

You are also incorrect about my links. I linked Dr. Oboler's article exactly once. I also linked a Business Week article on the same subject and previous O'Reilly articles. Both Dr. Oboler's article and Business Week provide further links and sources including statements made by Facebook. I have more than adequately documented what I wrote.

There are limits to free speech in every civilized country and there is censorship in every civilized country. For example, the government in the United States, through it's courts, prohibit defamation of character including libel and slander. In the broadest definition of the term that is censorship, a form of censorship most would deem reasonable and prudent. Similarly, the United States does have limitations on the press in a war zone, a form of censorship deemed necessary to protect our armed forces and one that most people find reasonable.

The European Union goes further, deeming hate speech to be something that warrants censorship. At the time I wrote this article I disagreed with that. Comments like yours have modified my opinion: Dr. Oboler may indeed be right and more censorship is probably needed.

Of course you are condoning and defending hate speech whether you can see that or not. You are claiming that censorship is more onerous than hate speech. I clearly disagree. That doesn't turn my opinion into "wielding your pitchfork and gahering the mob". Actually, that's what the hate speech on Facebook does.

You accuse me of being emotional. Considering the part of your comment I just quoted that is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Actually, no, my opinion is well reasoned and logical. It's projecting your own issue on to me.

Finally, you could at least spell my name correctly.

Caitlyn, I should apologise for not making myself clear in my last post because you obviously have not understood what I am saying at all. I am disagreeing with your insistence on censorship. Censorship is used too often as a solution to all of society's problems, however I think that censorship only puts a bandaid over the issues. I don't think censoring Facebook is fair to the public at large. Also who would monitor it and how? Facebook is a free worldwide service. If you were to try to prosecute people who have set up hate pages on Facebook, under which jurisdiction would you do so? And what would it achieve exactly? I don't think it is Facebook's job or responsibility to dictate morals and decency - each individual can decide for themselves what they like and dislike or what they find offensive. Instead of censoring hate pages, why not put up a counter page expressing your own opinions? The only sort of hate speech that should be taken down is where people are actually saying that people should be killed because of their ethnicity or beliefs.
When I said 'wielding the pitchfork etc' I meant that you needed to have a more reasoned and balanced approach to the article, instead of just presenting your view without considering the other side (but I suppose the whole point of an opinion piece such as yours is to only present one side). I don't see how what I said was the pot calling the kettle black because I am trying to show you the other side of the coin, not get people riled up without being properly informed. I don't know the answer to this dilemma, all I know is that taking down Facebook or censoring it in some way is not what I would like to see happen.
You say: "There are limits to free speech in every civilized country and there is censorship in every civilized country. For example, the government in the United States, through it's courts, prohibit defamation of character including libel and slander. In the broadest definition of the term that is censorship, a form of censorship most would deem reasonable and prudent. Similarly, the United States does have limitations on the press in a war zone, a form of censorship deemed necessary to protect our armed forces and one that most people find reasonable." I agree with this, but these examples have nothing to do with the case at hand. Limitation of press in a war zone is to ensure that strategies and confidential information don't get leaked. The purpose of the laws of confidentiality and defamation is totally different to the censorship you are talking about with Facebook.
"Comments like yours have modified my opinion: Dr. Oboler may indeed be right and more censorship is probably needed." Comments like mine where I have said that we should be careful not to take away our rights to free speech? What is your issue with that?
I happen to think white supremacists are deluded and deranged, and if they are actively carrying out violence against others then of course they should be punished, but they shouldn't be punished by stating what they think. Whether those hate groups are on Facebook or not, there will always be people in this world who will think such abhorrent things, just as there were before Facebook and the internet. We should be trying to change their mentality rather than restricting everybody else's freedoms.

I must say the popularity and success of Facebook and the influence the site has on people, particularly young people, do engender a special level of ethical and moral responsibility.
As in the article, most of the Western world does have hate speech laws. Limiting hate speech is largely seen as a legitimate limitation on free speech outside the United States. There are people advocating similar laws here. If Facebook and others fail to act I feel that is where we are headed. That is a two-edged sword.

Well, Go look at this group and you tell me if you think it's racist and bias and violates it's rules.
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=324487114526

@Daniel: Of course it is. Hatred of Pakistanis and of Muslims in general is no difference than hatred of anyone else.

I'm beginning to think that the United States will have to follow most of the rest of the West and enact hate speech laws.

Here is a lovely group that I am currently trying to get banned on Facebook: "coalition to ban diabetic marriages". The creator, Mr. Michael Barnabeo was on the faculty of Yale School of Medicine at the time he created this page and is currently employed with UCSD.

Lying about history is deplorable and wrong as is lying about the present

FB will have a proportion of stupid, ignorant, and lying people because thats how the world is.

Its not for FB, or the courts to decide what is a stupid, or mis-guided opinion

Ignorance, intolerance and stupidity is NOT controlled or contained by legislation it only gives stupid people the opportunity to appear persecuted and bullied.

I know that stupidity and ignorance will still exist (how else can homeopathy survive) but it will be diminished if people expose it to the world rather than trying to suppress it


Expose stupidity, present the truth, and trust in the goodness and wisdom of the majority of the world


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