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via Robert Thivierge / Flickr

Before the Internet, it was a lot tougher to organize a white supremacist rally. Hate groups would have to circulate newsletters, make phone calls or go on the radio to get the word out. These days, hate groups can easily and anonymously organize through social media.


“It just becomes easier to organize, to spread the word, for people to know where to go,” Richard Hasen, University of California–Irvine political scientist, told Pacficic Standard. “It could be to raise money, or it could be to engage in attacks on social media. Some of the activity is virtual. Some of it is in a physical place.”

“Social media has lowered the collective-action problems that individuals who might want to be in a hate group would face,” he continued. “You can see that there are people out there like you. That’s the dark side of social media.”

Facebook took a lot of heat recently for the role the platform played in the Christchurch mosque attack. The gunman went live on the platform several minutes before the shooting, showing off his guns and making a reference to PewDiePie.

The social network was also used to organize white nationalists for 2017’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 where one person was killed.

On Wednesday, March 27, in a blog post, Facebook announced it will ban any “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and separatism on Facebook and Instagram.” Facebook had previously prohibited the hateful treatment of people based on race, ethnicity, and religion. However, it had allowed expressions of ethnic nationalism and separatism.

“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,” Facebook wrote.

via Facebook

The platform will also enact a new policy that redirects people searching for terms associated with white supremacy to “resources focused on helping people leave behind hate groups.” People using search terms such as ‘heil Hitler” will be redirected to Life After Hate, an organization founded by former violent extremists that provide crisis intervention, education, support groups, and outreach.

The move was praised in a statement by Color of Change, a progressive nonprofit civil rights advocacy group. “We are glad to see the company’s leadership take this critical step forward in updating its policy on white nationalism,” the statement reads. “We look forward to continuing our work with Facebook to ensure that the platform’s content moderation guidelines and trainings properly support the updated policy and are informed by civil rights and racial justice organizations.”