The Current

Facebook's hate speech ban is 'part of the problem' with online division, expert warns

What should governments and tech companies do to combat the online spread of white nationalism and other forms of extremism? We talk to tech entrepreneur Vidhya Ramalingam and analyst/professor Taylor Owen.

'This isn't just about security. It's about the health of our democracy,' says media ethics chair Taylor Owen

Facebook said Wednesday it is broadening its definition of hate speech to apply to 'white nationalists' and 'white separatists.' (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

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Media ethics expert Taylor Owen says global social platforms like Facebook should not set the metric by which society measures free speech.

The social media giant announced Monday it would ban far-right political commentator Faith Goldy and white nationalist crusader Kevin Goudreau, among other groups, citing its recent crackdown on far-right extremism and white nationalism.

But Owen, who is an associate professor in the Max Bell School of Public Policy at McGill University and the Beaverbrook Chair in Ethics, Media and Communication, argues that Facebook's move will likely conflict with democratic institutions that may have different definitions of what constitutes free speech.

He described Facebook's latest move to mitigate hate speech online as "insufficient" because it and other major tech companies "exist within and are using the tools of what is ultimately a private space that I think itself is part of the problem."

Facebook said it's barring these users under its "dangerous individuals and organizations" community standards policy.

Upon learning that she was banned from Facebook, Faith Goldy tweeted: "Our enemies are weak and terrified. They forget most revolutions were waged before social media!" (John Rieti/CBC)

"Our work against organized hate is ongoing and we will continue to review individuals, pages, groups and content against our community standards," the company said in a statement.

The move comes on the heels of two shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, where a gunman killed at least 49 people at two different mosques.

The attack was live-streamed on Facebook and a manifesto — which was posted to a now-deleted Twitter account — linked to the man charged says he was motivated by white nationalist ideology.

Metro Morning host Matt Galloway asked Kevin Chan, the global director and head of public policy at Facebook Canada, why it was so hard to keep hate off their platform. Chan said it's a matter of security.

Owen's concerns lie within that sentiment.

"This isn't just about security. It's about the health of our democracy. Global platforms are ultimately setting those rules right now," he said. 

"They're driven by commercial incentives and incentives, which highlight some speech over others."

As tech giants and governments seek solutions to the growing problem of online extremism, Owen says the solution will not be found on a universal global scale.

"Free speech means different things to different people in different countries, and we've always reconciled that through our democratic institutions," he said, highlighting the differences between Canada's hate speech laws versus the U.S.'s First Amendment and Germany's ban on Nazi content.

"So the question is this disconnect between a global platform that wants one set of rules for everybody on the planet, and the way we've mitigated speech in the past, which is through national democratic processes."

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Émilie Quesnel. Produced by Jessica Linzey, Sarah-Joyce Battersby, and Allie Jaynes.


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