In the wake of the 2016 election, Facebook has been actively waging war against its reputation as a bastion of “fake news.” As a result, it’s been cracking down on content that propagates conspiracy theories (such as anti-vaxxer pages and groups) and booting people who violate its anti-hate speech guidelines. Now, it appears to be making good on its promises by banning high-profile figures, such as alt-right figure Paul Joseph Watson, Nation of Islam founder Louis Farrakhan (who has previously voiced anti-Semitic views), right-wing personality Laura Loomer and alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopolous, from the platform. Facebook also said that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his website InfoWars have been banned from Instagram as well. (InfoWars and Jones have been banned from Facebook since 2018.)
Not only are all the above named individuals subject to a lifetime ban, but anyone who sets up an account for them in their likeness will be banned as well. “We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology. The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today,” Facebook told Rolling Stone in a statement.
The move is sure to inflame many conservatives, who have increasingly been accusing Facebook of having a left-wing bias and censoring those with more conservative views (despite research indicating that this is not the case). Such critiques have prompted many conservatives who have been banned from Facebook to gravitate toward other social media platforms, such as Gab and Discord. Facebook has also made an effort to de-platform conspiracy theorists such as anti-vaxxers, who have also accused the company of censorship and are gravitating toward platforms with less stringent moderation.
Those who have criticized Facebook for allowing extremist ideologies to thrive on its platform, however, will likely be pleased by the move. In a statement sent to Rolling Stone, Cristina López G., deputy director for extremism at Media Matters for America, a nonprofit media watchdog, wrote that while Facebook still has much left to do in order to combat the spread of hate speech, “today’s announcement from Facebook is a step in the right direction, and shows exactly why Facebook needs to be thinking about enforcement in a more holistic way….[it] opens doors to making Facebook’s platform safer and inspiring some optimism that the tech company might be capable of taking responsibility for the ways its platforms have empowered extremists.”