Social media companies need to do more to tackle hatred and lies that are spread on their platforms. This is the only message that you can come away with after reading our latest investigative piece. Facebook hosts dozens of pages and groups, some secret, aimed at spreading far-right messages and talking points. Yet the company does nothing.
We could ask why but that would be meaningless. The simple fact is that the profit motivation overrides everything else. As the saying goes, the capitalist would sell you the rope that’ll be used to hang him as long as he can make a tidy profit out of it. In the case of a social media platform like Facebook, they profit from more people using their service. Because that means they have more information on users to sell to advertisers. It’s simple math.
But it doesn’t matter what the underlying beliefs or motivations of Facebook’s users are. They can be outright Nazis. They can call for the genocide of people they consider unworthy. Regardless, they are a source of profit for the company given that their details, like everyone else’s, can be sold off to the highest bidder.
This is Facebook’s greatest weakness. It accepts almost everyone and everything. Its monopoly over the social media landscape makes it the go-to place for sharing of information. And that includes the sharing of hate speech, conspiracy theories, and calls for violence directed at minorities. For the far right it is, without a doubt, one of their most effective recruitment tools.
And Facebook itself surely knows this. Everything is monitored at all times; the pages people like, the groups they join. All of this is known to the company. It can see the patterns. Far-right activists and their supporters all sing from the same hymn sheet. There are specific talking points and linguistic patterns that are apparent amongst the far right here and further afield.
Facebook is aware of this. At the very least it is aware of this because of the work of the Far Right Observatory, an Irish group dedicated to monitoring the far right in Ireland. In April the group handed Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, a report it had compiled detailing the Irish far right’s use of Facebook. In particular, it noted that the company handles the far right in a “haphazard and inconsistent” manner. And, as a result, this is helping to “facilitat[e] the growth of hate movements in Ireland”.
So far Facebook’s response has been non-existent. The far right continues to thrive on the platform. Here in Ireland we see the same tropes trotted out day after day as the same figures get away with spreading hatred and lies.
This position is untenable. Something has to change. Whether it comes from Facebook itself or from pressure put on it by advocacy groups or elsewhere is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that the company is profiting from hatred. And that cannot be allowed to stand.
Featured image via Pixabay – Gerd Altmann