Big news from a small, dark corner of Facebook yesterday, as the social media giant announced it's banning seven 'dangerous' accounts from the platform.
The official count is six human beings who are also brands, along with a media company run by one of them. Here's the full list, before we get deep into why and what it all means.
- Infowars is the media company we're talking about. It's basically a far-right conspiracy news website known for things like claiming that the Sandy Hook elementary school murders in 2012 either didn't occur or were a "false flag operation" by gun control activists.
- Alex Jones, a far-right conspiracy theorist who runs Infowars.
- Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, whose rhetoric has been called anti-Semitic and homophobic.
- Laura Loomer, a media personality who has been accused of peddling far-right conspiracy theories.
- Paul Nehlen, a former congressional candidate who described himself as a "pro-White Christian" and had been banned from Breitbart News in 2018 for "for ties to neo-Nazis and racist comments about Meghan Markle," according to The Washington Post.
- Paul Joseph Watson, who also works for Infowars and was described as a "far-right Youtube pesonality" by the Post.
- Milo Yiannopoulos, a British right wing media personality.
"We applaud Facebook for taking this positive step toward removing hate actors from the company's platforms," Madihha Ahussain, special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry with the advocacy group Muslim Advocates, told the Post.
Interestingly, Facebook apparently made the purging announcement before it actually banned at least some of the Facebook and Instagram accounts. That led to the odd situation in which Yiannopoulos, for example, was able to post about his ban from Instagram on his Instagram page.
But they're all apparently gone now.
Some of the views expressed by the affected group are easy to condemn. And frankly I'm pulling punches on that last sentence. There's some despicable stuff in there. I'm the last person in the world to stand up for the substance of some of this garbage.
And yet, it gives me pause to see blanket bans. It slides us all right up to the edge of the slipperiest of slopes.
So what do we do? There's no doubt that nefarious people -- including but not limited to Russian intelligence -- sought to influence the 2016 elections, and that incendiary messages on social media sites like Facebook were one of their key weapons.
Clearly it's important to find a way to combat these kinds of vile posts. And as an advertiser user and investor, I wouldn't want to support companies that turned a blind eye to some of this stuff.
But a blanket ban, imposed by a private company and preventing people with unpopular views from posting at all on perhaps the most-traveled public forum of the digital media universe? And then threatening anyone who agrees with them with being banned as well?
Facebook also announced that it's not just that Infowars will be banned, for example; any other Facebook or Instagram account that praises Infowars will reportedly see the post removed, and might face its own ban.
It's a tough, tough call, and I don't claim to have the easy answer. But neither apparently do the tech giants and the U.S. government.
Facebook also issued a statement quoted by numerous media outlets:
"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."
I'll be thinking about this all day.