Facebook Takes Down ‘Britain First’ Page, Cites Violations of Community Standards

Color photo of counterprotesters at a Britain First demonstration in November 2014. Two men hold a hand-lettered cardboard sign that reads: "Love Thy Neighbour"
Counterprotesters at a Britain First demonstration in November 2014 (Elizabeth Ellis via Flickr)
Facebook disclosed that the London-based nationalist group Britain First had "repeatedly posted content designed to incite animosity and hatred against minority groups."

After issuing multiple warnings to Britain First that the group was violating the social-media platform’s “Community Standards,” Facebook has banned the London-based nationalist organization from its platform.

Britain First’s Facebook page was taken down, as were the pages of its two leaders, Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen.

Screenshot of a March 14, 2018 statement from Facebook regarding its decision to remove the pages of Britain First and the group's leaders from its platform for violating "Community Standards"
Click on the thumbnail above to view the March 14 statement regarding Britain First on Facebook’s website (screenshot via Facebook Newsroom)

In a March 14 statement, Facebook disclosed that the group had “repeatedly posted content designed to incite animosity and hatred against minority groups.”

From the statement:

“Content posted on the Britain First Facebook Page and the Pages of party leaders Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen has repeatedly broken our Community Standards. We recently gave the administrators of the Pages a written final warning, and they have continued to post content that violates our Community Standards. As a result, in accordance with our policies, we have now removed the official Britain First Facebook Page and the Pages of the two leaders with immediate effect. We do not do this lightly, but they have repeatedly posted content designed to incite animosity and hatred against minority groups, which disqualifies the Pages from our service.”

Facebook did not specify which Britain First posts it flagged for violating its standards. But the authors of a story in The Guardian inferred that one of the offending posts likened Muslim immigrants to animals; in another, Britain First’s leaders were described as “Islamophobic and proud.” Additionally, reporters Alex Hern and Kevin Rawlinson wrote, “There may also have been videos posted to the page that were deemed hateful and likely encourage others to engage in hateful speech towards Muslims.”

Golding and Fransen have more to worry about than an online purge. Both have been sentenced to prison (Golding for 18 weeks, Fransen for 36) on convictions that stem from their May 2017 arrests on charges of distributing handouts and online videos that depict anti-Muslim sentiment.

In addition, The Guardian noted, Britain First was “deregistered as a political party in November 2017.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim to hold high office in a major Western city, denounced the pair while praising Facebook’s decision to ban them.

“Britain First is a vile and hate-fueled group whose sole purpose is to sow division,” Khan wrote in a statement he posted on Twitter. Their sick intentions to incite hatred within our society via social media are reprehensible, and Facebook’s decision to remove their content is welcome.”

Earlier, at the annual SXSW event in Austin, Texas, Khan had appealed to Facebook to up its efforts to crack down on what he described as hate speech, harassment, and propaganda.

“Ultimately, there must be greater responsibility taken by some tech companies for the impact they’re having on the world,” the tech site Engadget quoted Khan as saying.

The UK’s Daily Mail quoted Khan further: “The global tech revolution has brought incredible benefits and social media is enjoyed by billions of people around the world. But big social-media companies must wield the power they’ve amassed responsibly. I call on social-media platforms to show a stronger duty of care, so that they can live up to their promise to be places that connect and unify, not divide or polarize. We know more can be done to remove content from people or groups who misuse these platforms for the purpose of inciting hatred or dividing communities. I trust the decision made by Facebook today reflects a genuine desire to do more to protect people online and I urge others to follow suit.”

Launched in 2011, Britain First had amassed 1 million Facebook likes by 2015 and 2 million by October of 2017. In November of last year, the group made headlines on this side of the Atlantic when U.S. President Donald Trump retweeted anti-Muslim videos that had been shared on the group’s website. Twitter banned Britain First soon afterward.

According to the recent Guardian story:

“The group has employed novel tactics to drum up support on social media, frequently enjoying viral success with simple memes designed to encourage people to like or follow their page through appeals to patriotism and nationalism.

“A report released earlier this month by the anti-fascist organization Hope Not Hate, suggested the far-right organization had the ‘second most liked Facebook page in the politics and society category in the UK  — after the royal family.'”

That said, many question the validity of gauging a group’s popularity by the number of likes it garners on Facebook. A 2015 story in The Independent quoted a Hope Not Hate spokesman who noted, “A lot of it is dishonest because people don’t even realise they are signing up to the group.” According to that article, the spokesman went on to explain “that the group asks simple questions such as ‘do you think dog fighting should be banned?’ to get people to give up their details or click ‘like’ online.”

In a recent blog post, John Samples, a vice president at the CATO Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C., noted that as a private entity, Facebook has every right to act as it did. But he warned that the social-media giant may have acted under pressure from government authorities, which would not be a good thing.

Samples noted that Great Britain and the rest of Europe have “much more narrow protections for freedom of speech than the United States,” and that members of the British Parliament had been extremely critical of Facebook  late last year “for hosting extreme speech.”

Continued Samples:

“Perhaps British officials successfully bullied Facebook into taking down the Britain First page. If so, we are getting a glimpse at an ugly future in which government cracks down on speech through private intermediaries thereby (in the United States) bypassing the protections offered by the First Amendment. This danger is the thorn in the rose of Internet speech.”

A post by Katherine Mangu-Ward on another libertarian site, Reason.com, argued along similar lines.

Writes Mangu-Ward:

“Like it or not (I don’t!), Britain First is a part of the global political conversation. It’s a rotten part that makes all the other parts it touches worse off. But it nonetheless represents (at least some slice of) the views held by people as important as the president of the United States. Being banned on Facebook or Twitter will make them easier to ignore. It might suppress their influence. But it won’t make them go away. And it could backfire.”

About Jon E. Dougherty

Jon E. Dougherty has spent more than 25 years as a journalist, author, editor, reporter, and media consultant. Dougherty has a B.A. in political science and an M.A. in national security studies/intelligence analysis, and he's a U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom (2009-10).

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