This is Part Two of Hate Online, a series examining the online presence of the far right in Ireland. Read Part One here.
Facebook is home to a number of Irish pages and groups which promote hate speech, racism, and conspiracy theories. They also have in common a hatred for what they see as a liberal attack on the cultural and social mores of Ireland.
Conspiracy theory to conspiracy theory
One such page is called Wake Up People. The page shares content covering all of the above. In the 7 days from 17 August it posted, amongst other things, the following: A post from Gemma O’Doherty criticising the Irish government for taking in asylum seekers who have been stranded on a ship in the Mediterranean and arguing that Leo Varadkar “will serve time some day” as a result; a video about 5G which argues that it is dangerous to human health and erodes privacy; that a woman who created a cure for cancer is being held in prison, presumably as a result of her work; an article which declares that via the UN “A Totalitarian, Transhumanist, state is being developed worldwide”; a post promoting Gemma O’Doherty’s Anti-Corruption Ireland movement; a post attacking climate change as relying on “overheated climate models, inflated emission scenarios, and relentless exaggeration by political interests”; and a post referring to climate activist Greta Thunberg as a “petulant child” and as a “little Nazi tool” who is funded by George Soros.
Behind the mask
The apparent administrator of the page goes by the name Daniel Frank O’Shea. On his personal Facebook page he describes himself as a “Democracy Advocate, Activist” and “Citizen Journalist”. His posts range from the outright racist to the promotion of conspiracy theories.
He has called the UN a “modern area USSR superstate”. In the same post he says that the UN wants to create a “dystopian society ruled by Sharia law”. O’Shea also regularly comments on the role of Jewish people in the various conspiracies. In one case he wrote that:
The Zionist Jews control Islam/ISIS via the CIA and they have now infiltrated Ireland.
While in another post he bluntly states that “Hitler should have finished the job”.
He goes on to write that Catholic churches are being destroyed to make way for mosques. As a result, he declares that:
Sharia law is being implemented and widely accepted, it will soon be a crime to fly the Tri-colour [sic] anywhere in our country for fear that we will offend an illegal immigrant aka migrant.
He describes this as “A Silent War”.
O’Shea also thinks that Irish people are being “forced into a minority” in order “to pave the way for the ‘new Irish’”. Ireland’s ailing healthcare system is another method, he insists, “to reduce [sic] Irish population”.
A wider pattern
We cannot be content with the fact that O’Shea’s reach is extremely limited. This is because his comments and opinions are emblematic of a wider pattern in online spaces. On far more popular Facebook pages the same views get a wider and approving audience.
Take the Facebook page called Irish Patriot Movement, which had 3,506 likes at the time of writing. It regularly posts updates railing against asylum seekers and so-called liberals. In a post from 23 August about Ireland’s commitment to take in migrants who were stranded on a ship in the Mediterranean, it wrote:
Other countries may take a stand against the mass invasion, but the invaders need not worry as Leo and his failed government will always take them in.
One person commented that as a result, Ireland isn’t Irish anymore.
On 19 August the page made light of the conditions that asylum seekers in direct provision are living in. It was argued that asylum seekers having to wash their clothes in a sink is “hardly a human rights violation”. And it went on to imply that asylum seekers haven’t left their home countries in fear for their lives.
At least they have a home to do it….the irish [sic] homeless cant [sic] even wash there [sic] clothes.
Another person supported this perspective, and went on to write that Irish homeless people “wish they had a sink and other niceties”.
The page also seems to promote the so-called Great Replacement conspiracy theory. In a post it shared on 1 August about an Indonesian woman who was whipped for apparent having premarital sex with her boyfriend, it declared:
This is the cult that the EU and our government is flooding our country with. We will not recognise our beloved nation in the coming years
Unfortunately there is nothing unique in any of this. There are dozens of Facebook pages and groups aimed at Irish users which promote racism, fascism, and the concept of the ethnic superiority. And this has gone on right under the noses of Facebook’s admins.
One such Facebook group is called Support Irish Communities targeted for direct provision or migrant centres. The group contains over 240 members, is private, and is run by Conor McZorba, also known as Conor Rafferty. He is also involved in a secret Facebook group of Gemma O’Doherty supporters.
In the direct provision group he promotes content designed to spread myths about direct provision and asylum seekers. One such post he promotes is a video by Gearóid Murphy, a far-right YouTuber who has visited towns and villages where it has been proposed to locate direct provision centres.
In the video Murphy argues that the government is running an “asylum industry” and he wants to “dispel some misconceptions” about asylum seekers. Murphy goes on to claim that the government will “subvert, undermine, and intimidate people” who are opposed to direct provision centres being opened in their areas. And he contends that the “asylum industry” in Ireland is actually “a backdoor migration system”.
At one stage he refers to calls for the introduction of hate speech laws “quasi-totalitarianism”. The institution of these laws, he declares, is part of an “insidious” system of state intervention. And, he says, the result will be:
opposition to these plantations in your town will literally be illegal.
He also offers advice on how to stop anti-racist activists, calling on people to “marginalise the collaborators”.
In his Facebook group Rafferty described the video as “gold-dust [sic]”. He also wrote that Murphy’s video is,
A DIY kit for targeted communities.
And in another post Rafferty opines:
Lets [sic] get it shared to those areas threatend [sic] with migrants as it shows how to resist.
is at the sharp end of the push-back [sic] against this uncontrolled insanity, and we need to support them against the ANTIFA Baboons [sic]!
Rafferty himself also appears to be concerned about the example that Oughterard will set. He voiced his concerns in response to those in charge of the anti-asylum seeker protests changing tactics due to pressure from activists. He told a member of the group that:
I worry about their change of strategy. Its [sic] risky, as if they allow themselves to be manoeuvred once, they can be manoeuvred again…
In follow-up posts he contends that it’s “a key moment” in Oughterard and,
If they can resist successfully, then other areas will be inspired to resist too
In fact it’s made me all the more determined to stand up against the fake news globohomo [sic] media-government-NGO complex In Ireland.
The scale of the problem
According to a report published by the Far Right Observatory in May, as of February 2019 there are more than 40 Facebook pages which push far-right propaganda in Ireland. Facebook, it points out, deals with these pages in a “haphazard and inconsistent” manner. Instead, it’s “facilitating the growth of hate movements in Ireland”. And as a result, it declared:
Facebook needs to take visible and effective action to stop such radicalisation.
The company’s own policies around hate speech and racism are quite clear, however. On its Community Standards page it highlights that hate speech is not allowed on the platform. It defines hate speech as:
a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability. We also provide some protections for immigration status. We define attack as violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation
But Facebook is clearly not enacting these policies in a regular and consistent manner. The Beacon contacted Facebook about its policies but received no response.
online platforms have failed to regulate content in a manner that upholds fundamental rights in Ireland.
Its solution is to support the recommendation made by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression. The Rapporteur has insisted that governments should
only seek to restrict content pursuant to an order by an independent and impartial judicial authority, and in accordance with due process and standards of legality, necessity and legitimacy.
And this should be carried out in a transparent manner. This means “full disclosure” of the rules of content moderation, how they are applied, as well as information on appealing decisions and “accountability for wrongful takedown”.
Doing nothing is a risk it’s willing to take
This is just a snapshot of the activities of the far right on Facebook. The website is also replete with secret groups that are only accessible via an invitation from a member of the group. There has been some success in infiltrating these groups. But the fact that they exist in the first place is demonstrative of the problems Facebook has in dealing with the far right.
It has to do more. And it can do more. But it instead appears to prefer to turn a blind eye to hatred that is freely spread on its platform. Perhaps breaking up the monopoly it has created is the only way to tackle the problem.
But until something is done, the far right will continue to use Facebook to spread its lies and recruit new followers. And the danger this creates is undeniable and incalculable.
Featured image via Pixabay – Simon Steinberger