By The Wall Street Journal
Facebook, Inc. banned an array of personalities whose views it deemed too inflammatory to be shared on its social network on Thursday, including Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, far-right talk-show host Alex Jones and conservative Jewish activist Laura Loomer.
The move was Facebook’s most sweeping yet against online provocateurs and shows Facebook is trying to be more proactive in removing controversial content that users post on its network, after months of criticism that the company hasn’t done enough to prevent bullying, abuse and hate speech.
Facebook said the people it banned violated a set of policies that prohibit “dangerous individuals and organizations.” That category, as defined by Facebook, includes people or groups that have called for or carried out acts of violence, use hate speech or slurs in their descriptions or follow a hateful ideology.
“The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today,” a Facebook spokeswoman said.
Other individuals Facebook banned on Thursday included self-described “pro-white” politician Paul Nehlen, media provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson.
In response to the Facebook decision, Mr. Yiannopoulos said, “Read Orwell. Censorship doesn’t stop at the fringes. You’re next.”
“‘Dangerous.’ My opinions? Or giving a handful of giant partisan corporations the power to decide who has free speech?” read a message posted late Thursday to the verified account on Twitter of Mr. Watson.
Ms. Loomer said: “It’s absurd that this is happening in America.” She added, “I have never violated the Facebook terms of service.”
Ms. Loomer said she has already been banned from Twitter, Uber, Lyft, Venmo, PayPal, GoFundMe and Medium, and has lost 90% of her income as a result.
“I can’t do anything now. I don’t have any platform,” she said.
Ms. Loomer has posted on Facebook and elsewhere her views that are critical of Muslims and suggested that some mass shootings were staged.
The other banned individuals either couldn’t be reached or weren’t immediately available for comment.
The majority of the newly banned people owed their influence to the reach they had been able to cultivate through Facebook and Instagram, according to Cristina Lopez G., deputy director for extremism at liberal advocacy group Media Matters.
They used their accounts to post content that “dehumanized entire communities, promoted hateful conspiracy theories, and radicalized audiences – all while they profited from directing people to their own websites,” she said.
“Today’s announcement 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,” Ms. Lopez G. said.
When Facebook and other social-media companies launched more than a decade ago, their users lauded the ability to say anything to anyone around the world, and the tech companies embraced their role as protectors of free speech.
In the last couple of years, stances have shifted, in part in response to increasing recognition that the platforms also have become hotbeds of misogyny, racism and hate speech.