Facebook announced that it would ban some of its most notorious far-right voices – but failed to actually do so before they were able to promote alternative ways of hearing the content that they want to spread.
In an apparent attempt to deal with the spread of such groups over its platform, Facebook told news organisations that it would remove the accounts of Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson and other controversial users of the platform.
But after making that announcement, it did not actually ban their profiles immediately. It meant that they were free to post even after news organisations were reporting that their accounts had been removed.
As such, they seized on the chance to promote their other platforms, on which their posts were still available.
Milo Yiannopoulos, for instance, had time to instruct his followers to sign up to a newsletter that he runs. Laura Loomer redirected people to sign up to her Telegram channel.
All of the accounts have now been banned.
Facebook said the newly banned accounts violated its policy against dangerous individuals and organizations. The company says it has always banned people or groups that proclaim a violent or hateful mission or are engaged in acts of hate or violence, regardless of political ideology.
It added that when it bans someone under this policy, the company also prohibits anyone else from praising or supporting them.
In this case, though, the company said people can speak positively about the six banned individuals as long as what they're saying otherwise complies with Facebook policies.
For years, social media companies have been under pressure from civil rights groups and other activists to clamp down on hate speech on their services. Following the deadly white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Google, Facebookand PayPal began banishing extremist groups and individuals who identified as or supported white supremacists.
A year later, widespread bans of Jones and Infowars reflected a more aggressive enforcement of policies against hate speech. But Facebook instituted only a 30-day suspension (though Twitter banned him permanently).
It is not clear what events led to Thursday's announcement. In a statement, Facebook merely said, "The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today."
Last month, it extended its ban on hate speech to prohibit the promotion and support of white nationalism and white separatism. It had previously allowed such material even though it has long banned white supremacists.
Asked to comment on the bans, Yiannopoulos emailed only "You're next."
Jones reacted angrily Thursday during a live stream of his show on his Infowars website.
"They didn't just ban me. They just defamed us. Why did Zuckerberg even do this?" Jones said, referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Jones called himself a victim of "racketeering" by "cartels."
"There's a new world now, man, where they're banning everybody and then they tell Congress nobody is getting banned," he said.
Watson, meanwhile, tweeted that he was not given a reason and that he "broke none of their rules."
"Hopefully, other prominent conservatives will speak out about me being banned, knowing that they are next if we don't pressure the Trump administration to take action," he wrote.
Farrakhan, Nehlen and Loomer did not immediately return messages for comment.
Harvard's Ghosh said kicking off individuals with big followings, such as Jones, goes against Facebook's commercial interest.
"As soon as they kick Alex Jones or Laura Loomer off their platform, it immediately ticks of a huge number of people," he said.
Additional reporting by agencies
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