Facebook shut down the Proud Boys’ recruiting tool: Facebook

Proud boy Gavin McInnes.
Proud boy Gavin McInnes.
Image: Reuters/Andrew Kelly
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Facebook has removed pages, accounts, and groups on its site and Instagram associated with far-right organization Proud Boys and its founder Gavin McInnes, leaving them shut out from major social media channels. Earlier this month, members of the group were involved in a violent fight in New York, after McInnes gave a speech to his followers.

The social network banned the Proud Boys on Tuesday (Oct. 30), the same day that The Daily Beast reported Instagram was becoming a favorite channel for alt-right figures like McInnes. He used the platform to promote his speech in New York. Business Insider first reported the ban.

The Proud Boys were using Facebook as a vetting tool for new members, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) found in August. The organization, which the SPLC designates as a “hate group,” calls itself “western chauvinist,” admits only men. Following a violent rally in Portland, Oregon, in August, six of the largest Proud Boys groups where administrators vet new recruits for local chapters, “experienced an explosion in recruits,” a nearly 70% hike—0r 823 new members.

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have started booting far-right personalities and groups off their sites, after initially being the vehicles they used to grow in presence. Banned from one platform, they move to others. Talk show host Alex Jones still has an Instagram account after being banned from Facebook, as does alt-righter Milo Yiannopoulos, who was banned from Twitter. The Proud Boys, however, appeared to have been shut out entirely (Twitter suspended the group and McInnes’s accounts in August).

Many have started turning to more radical parts of the web, like Gab. The Twitter-like site has become a haven for extremist content, but was recently kicked out by its hosting provider after it turned out that the attacker in the deadly shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue used the service to post anti-Semitic messages.

Gab says it’s only offline temporarily, as it finds a new hosting service, and there are plenty of murky places online where the Proud Boys can gather, but getting kicked off the major channels severely inhibits their power to spread their message.

“Our team continues to study trends in organized hate and hate speech and works with partners to better understand hate organizations as they evolve,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “We ban these organizations and individuals from our platforms and also remove all praise and support when we become aware of it.”

Hate speech is a contentious and complicated subject at Facebook, and it’s one of the more difficult things for it regulate and control. The company is closely watched by right-wing politicians, who accuse it of removing conservative content. At the same time, with repeated examples of real-world violence that messages on Facebook help facilitate, social media platforms face increasing public pressure to limit the spread of hateful content.