Facebook forbids white supremacy, but allows white separatism and nationalism

Definitions, definitions.
Definitions, definitions.
Image: Reuters/Joshua Roberts
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Earlier this month, Facebook released the guidelines it says it uses to review content internally. The process appeared to be rather granular, but the rules that the legions of moderators the company hires are far more detailed, documents leaked to Vice’s Motherboard show.

Most notably, the documents refer specifically to white power-related hate speech, which the company was trying to zero in on following the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, during which one person was killed and many more injured. The guidelines include some puzzling decisions.

According to one of the training slides that Motherboard says were distributed to moderators, the company makes distinctions between white supremacy, white nationalism, and white separatism. Facebook banned the first ideology, while allowing the others.

Q: What is our stance on white supremacy, white nationalism and white separatism?

We don’t allow praise, support and representation of white supremacy as an ideology. Eg. “White supremacy is the right thing”; “I am a white supremacist”; “Join the next White Supremacy rally!”

We allow praise, support and representation of white nationalism as an ideology. Eg. “White nationalism is the only way”; “I am a proud white nationalist”

We allow praise, support and representation of white separatism as an ideology. Eg. “White separatism is the perfect solution to America’s problems”; “I am a white separatist”. By the same token, we allow to call for the creation of white ethno-states (Eg. “The US should be a white-only nation”)

A Facebook spokesperson told Quartz that the company consulted researchers and academics while crafting this policy, and they noted that there is a difference between supremacists’ drive to dominate and the belief that races should be separated. Another factor Facebook took into consideration was that there are other separatist movements, such as Black and Basque separatism, as well as Zionism. Such groups don’t necessarily preach inferiority of others, the spokesperson said.

While they’re not identical ideologically, both white supremacy and white nationalism believe that racial discrimination should be built into law, Eric Kaufmann, an expert on ethnicity and politics and professor at Birkbeck University in London, told The New York Times in 2016. Hate group watchdog  Southern Poverty Law Center says that “[w]hite nationalist groups espouse white supremacist or white separatist ideologies, often focusing on the alleged inferiority of nonwhites.”

The key problem seems to be that three ideologies are closely interlinked and overlapping, which Facebook itself admits in the training materials, according to Motherboard. Ultimately, the company has chosen to ban outright racism, but allow it when it’s somewhat veiled.

In the documents, Facebook also says that “some white nationalists carefully avoid the term supremacy because it has negative connotations.”

Facebook’s policies prohibit hate speech, which the company defines as “a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disability or disease.”

While it’s conceivable to argue that the white separatism and white nationalism statements in Facebook’s training material are “direct attacks,” it’s hard to see how these ideologies aren’t built upon racial hatred. And by drawing lines at all, it becomes less clear exactly what Facebook hopes to achieve.