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How white supremacists evade Facebook bans

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Yesterday Twitter, in response to years of complaints about letting white nationalists use the platfo
 
May 30 · Issue #335 · View online
The Interface
Yesterday Twitter, in response to years of complaints about letting white nationalists use the platform even though they have already been banned, said that it plans to conduct academic research on the subject. At HuffPost, Luke O'Brien took the occasion to note just how many white nationalists are using the platform:
The white supremacist accused of murdering 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March was also on Twitter, where he spread Islamophobia, white supremacist propaganda and articles about terrorist attacks. He tweeted pictures of his weapons and posted links to a disturbing manifesto he wrote, apparently in anticipation of the deadly rampage. Only after he was charged in a mass murder did Twitter act.
The shooter may have carried out the genocidal end goal of white supremacy, but there are thousands of white supremacists on Twitter with the same mindset, most of them anonymous and working in concert. In a 2018 study, extremism expert J.M. Berger offered an “extremely conservative” estimate that at least 100,000 alt-right users are on Twitter. The repercussions for these bad actors are practically nonexistent.
But Twitter isn’t the only platform with a whack-a-troll problem. In BuzzFeed, Jane Lytvynenko, Craig Silverman, and Alex Boutilier examine the aftermath of Facebook’s effort to eliminate white nationalist groups. Working with an extremism researcher, they find that banned groups including the Proud Boys had been able to set up shop on Facebook again rather easily:
Squire said the group was able to return to Facebook by slightly altering its name. One of their new pages was called PB Canada and included a link to a Telegram channel used to communicate with supporters.
Squire said the group was able to return to Facebook by slightly altering its name. One of their new pages was called PB Canada and included a link to a Telegram channel used to communicate with supporters.
They go on to document other instances of banned groups continuing to exploit various parts of Facebook to recruit new members. Sometimes groups are banned but their constituent members are not, and those members simply create new pages and spread their racist ideology there.
Facebook removed the groups found by BuzzFeed. But elsewhere on the platform, militias are organizing, Samira Sadeque reports:
Granted, since its payment accounts were suspended, UCP has taken steps to “secure” itself. On Facebook, the group used to be open but has since become closed. And yet the group, which had 3,000 members in April, now has more than 5,800. […]
Individual users are also posting videos on their personal Facebook pages and live streaming themselves intimidating, harassing, and haranguing asylum seekers. For example, a woman named Debbie Collins Farnsworth has posted numerous live videos confronting incoming migrants. (Currently, when you click on the videos, a notification says they aren’t available right now, signaling they may have been set to private or have been removed.) Her videos have garnered thousands of views and hundreds of shares and receive much fanfare, offering a glimpse at how well this kind of anti-immigrant sentiment and intimidation is received on Facebook, where this rhetoric can spread.
Opposing immigration might not automatically make you a white nationalist, but forming a militia to harass terrified asylum seekers probably qualifies. And at a time when Facebook is pushing its users to spend more time in private groups, it seems notable that the company has no comment on a 5,000-member militia that’s coordinating on its platform.
Saying that you’ve banned white supremacists is obviously much easier than doing so. But given the way that tech platforms now reflexively laud their artificial intelligence efforts whenever questions of moderation come up, I’m struck by how easily white supremacists have managed to evade these purported bans.
If a Nazi can rejoin Facebook just by abbreviating a group’s name differently, a different approach would seem to be warranted. And the next time a platform tells us that they have banned white supremacists, it’s up to us to ask exactly how they plan to do it.

The Pelosi video again (sorry)
The distorted video of Nancy Pelosi managed to stay in the news cycle for a sixth day today, so here are three quick things about it.
One, I mentioned yesterday that one reason Facebook didn’t explicitly label the video phony was that doing so might lead people to share it more. Alex Kantrowitz takes issue with this idea in BuzzFeed, interviewing the professor who first studied the so-called “backfire effect.”
“Under some circumstances, i.e. with world-view challenging material in particular, there is some evidence for a backfire effect. However, the keywords here are some and some,” Lewandowsky said. “So the question then becomes whether you gain more by being explicit and taking the risk with a backfire effect, or by sticking to ‘additional information’ (thus avoiding backfire) but being insufficiently explicit for the majority of people who might not be susceptible to a backfire effect. This is a difficult question that does not have a one-size-fits-all answer. However, given the relatively infrequent occurrence of backfire effects—they occur less frequently than initially thought—I would lean towards being more explicit as this might maximize the overall impact even if the occasional person backfires.”
Two, I got some questions about why YouTube banned the video when Facebook did not. YouTube’s answer is that the video was banned under its deceptive practices policy. The policy was initially designed to counter spam but has since expanded to include political deception, I’m told. The company is being a little slippery here, I think: YouTube pointed me to the part of the policy that bans “misleading metadata or thumbnails,” which would not seem relevant to the Pelosi video at all. In any case, I’ll be interested to see how Google applies this policy as more deceptive videos appear.
Finally, here’s Hillary Clinton calling the video “sexist trash.”
Democracy
Elizabeth Warren puts a giant tech breakup billboard in San Francisco’s face
Clock runs down for privacy legislation
US Universities And Retirees Are Funding The Technology Behind China’s Surveillance State
DIY Facial Recognition for Porn Is a Dystopian Disaster
Apple, Google and WhatsApp condemn GCHQ proposal to eavesdrop on encrypted messages
Disclaiming responsibility: How platforms deadlocked the Federal Election Commission's efforts to regulate digital political advertising
Sen. Josh Hawley calls out Facebook over ‘encrypted’ messaging plans
Ro Khanna’s quest to marry Silicon Valley capitalism with progressive populism
Elsewhere
Mark Zuckerberg’s personal security chief accused of sexual harassment and making racist remarks about Priscilla Chan by 2 former staffers
Facebook Shareholders Challenged Zuckerberg, Left Empty-Handed
An initiative to combat fake news raised $2.25 million from Craiglist's founder and Facebook
Twitter is not making you smarter and hurting your intelligence, new study finds
Another study finds teen suicide rates rose just after 13 Reasons Why debut
YouTube could help the planet by throwing out its digital waste
Launches
Facebook filed a patent for a drone made of kites
Takes
About That Pelosi Video: What to Do About ‘Cheapfakes’ in 2020
Google Should Google the Definition of ‘Employee’
And finally ...
Matt Rogers
A lot of peeps asking about my morning routine. So, here u go, witch!
- Wake Up
- Check insta to see if the person who I have made the center of my emotional life who truly gives me nothing has skipped any of my insta stories.
- Coffee!!!
- Day over. 17 hr sleep w/ nightmares.
8:58 AM - 29 May 2019
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and leads on white nationalists hiding in plain sight: casey@theverge.com.
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