- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2019

Facebook on Thursday said the site was banning several high-profile users for violating the social network’s rules against dangerous individuals and organizations, including Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and Infowars publisher Alex Jones.

Mr. Farrakhan and Mr. Jones are among a handful of users who are having their personal accounts purged by the platform, the company confirmed. Others pages being removed include the official Infowars account and the profiles belonging to Paul Nehlen, a far-right politician, Infowars editor Paul Joseph Watson and right-wing agitators Milo Yiannopoulos and Laura Loomer.

“We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology,” said a Facebook spokesperson. “The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today.”

The decision applies to both Facebook’s flagship social network and Instagram, its photo-sharing app, the company confirmed.

Facebook’s community standards consider dangerous individuals and organizations as those associated with terrorist activity, organized hate, mass murder, human trafficking and organized violent or criminal activity. They are prohibited from the platform along with “content that expresses support or praise for groups, leaders or individuals involved in these activities.”

The social network describes a “hate organization” as a group of three or more people acting “under a name, sign or symbol and that has an ideology, statement, or physical actions that attack individuals based on characteristics, including race, religious affiliation, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexual orientation serious disease or disability.”

Mr. Farrakhan, 85, has been frequently accused of anti-Semitism by watchdogs including the Anti-Defamation League during his decades leading the Nation of Islam, and Mr. Jones, 45, has been previously banned from other platforms for violating their rules against hate and harassment.

The Nation of Islam did not immediately return a request for comment.

Facebook last year removed pages associated with Infowars, a website run by Mr. Jones, but allowed him to maintain a personal account.

“We’re not victims here, but people need to know — this has been a dirty, hard war for a while,” Mr. Jones said, reacting to being outright banned from Facebook’s during a live episode of The Alex Jones Show.

“They didn’t just ban me, they defamed us,” he said.

Mr. Watson, whom Mr. Jones has called a top editor for Infowars, said on Twitter that he was banned by Facebook without being given any reason and appealed for President Trump’s administration to “take the issue of social media censorship seriously.”

“They’re now just banning people for wrongthink,” Mr. Watson tweeted. “There’s no pretense of enforcing rules.”

Mr. Nehlen, Mr. Yiannopoulos and Ms. Loomer were all previously banned from Twitter for similarly violating that platform’s policies.

“Censorship doesn’t stop at the fringes,” Mr. Yiannopoulos, a former Breitbart News editor, said in an email to The Washington Times. “You’re next.”

Neither Mr. Nehlen, a Republican from Wisconsin, nor Ms. Loomer, a New York-based activist, immediately returned messages seeking comment.

Media Matters for America, a nonprofit watchdog group, called Facebook’s decision “a step in the right direction.”

“The majority of the newly banned figures — Yiannopoulos, Loomer, Watson, Jones, and Nehlen — owed their influence to the massive reach they were allowed to cultivate through Facebook and Instagram, using 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,” said Cristina López G., deputy director for extremism at Media Matters.

“By cutting them off from this resource, Facebook will help limit the forces driving the spread of radical and often violent far-right ideology,” she said.

Facebook bans users regardless of ideology and has a thorough process for determining who to designate as dangerous, a company spokesperson told The Washington Times. Factors taken into consideration include whether they’ve called for or carried out acts of violence against people based on race, ethnicity or nationality; whether they personally identify with a hateful ideology; whether they use hate speech or slurs; and whether they’ve been disciplined previously for violating the platform’s hate speech policies, the spokesperson said.

Traditionally all Facebook users have been prohibited from endorsing anybody banned from the site for violating its policies against dangerous individuals, but the platform will not censor praise for any of the recently banned accounts unless those people have called for violence or belong to an organized hate group, the spokesperson said.

Facebook will remove any social networking pages, groups, events and accounts associated with Mr. Farrakhan, Mr. Jones, Mr. Yiannopoulos, Mr. Nehlen, Ms. Loomer, Mr. Watson and Infowars, however, and all representations of them with be effectively purged from its platforms.

Boasting billions of users between its social network, Instagram and WhatsApp messaging service, Facebook has faced scrutiny on Capitol Hill as recently as last month by lawmakers considering regulating the company.

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said during an April 10 hearing that concerns about social networks censoring users “raises real antitrust issues.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat and presidential candidate, has made breaking-up Facebook’s monopoly part of her 2020 campaign, meanwhile.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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