BuzzFeed News and the Toronto Star are investigating the ways in which political parties, third-party pressure groups, foreign powers, and individuals are influencing Canada’s political debate in the run-up to this fall’s federal election. This report is part of that collaboration.
A day after Facebook banned six Canadian individuals and groups for spreading hate, two made their way back onto the platform with new pages, while 11 pages with similar names and content remained online despite the ban.
Faith Goldy, the Canadian Nationalist Front, Wolves of Odin, and Canadian Infidels were all banned Monday but more than 24 hours later BuzzFeed News and the Toronto Star found pages, groups, and Instagram accounts using similar names and posting similar content that had been on the banned accounts. After asking Facebook for comment, they were all taken down.
Meanwhile, a new account was opened under Goldy’s name, and the account purchased an ad on Facebook promoting her personal website.
When climate change activist Lee Hunter noticed the ad Tuesday morning, he reported it to Facebook. Hunter received a reply stating the advertisement did not violate the company’s policy, and posted it to Twitter. Goldy later tweeted screenshots of Hunter’s exchange with Facebook, adding a smirking face emoji.
Tuesday afternoon, Facebook took down the page that purchased Goldy’s advertisement under its authenticity policy, which says users can’t misrepresent their identity on the platform.
The Goldy page wasn’t the only banned entity with Facebook ads in its name. A page called “Royal Canadian Infidel,” which has since been removed, shared similar content as the banned Canadian Infidels on Facebook. It also ran an advertisement Tuesday selling t-shirts for the group.
The ability of Facebook and other platforms to effectively remove offensive, hateful or graphic content came into question last month, when live streamed video of a mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, was still available hours after Facebook and other major social media platforms claimed to have removed it.
This time, the social media giant has shown it is unable to effectively enforce bans it chose to implement on its own schedule.
“Individuals and organizations who spread hate, attack, or call for the exclusion of others on the basis of who they are have no place on our services,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We will continue to review individuals, Pages, groups and content against our Community Standards, and take action in line with our policies. We take this very seriously and our work against organized hate is on-going.”
Facebook said their ban extends beyond the groups named on Monday to all affiliates, including linked pages and groups, and it will remove content that expresses support or praise for them. The platform said it will be investing in artificial intelligence to proactively remove content that violates its policies before it is reported.
A page in the name of the Canadian Nationalist Front, which was also banned Monday, popped up hours later posting links to news stories about its banning. The new page, which was later taken down, linked to the group’s website and listed the group’s leader, Kevin Goudreau, as a contact.
Evan Balgord, the executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said he wasn’t surprised Goudreau was able to get back online so fast.
“The content … was regularly successfully reported and removed before this new policy was in place. He always comes back. Facebook will have to keep on top of it,” Balgord said.
BuzzFeed News and the Toronto Star found 10 pages, groups, and Instagram accounts promoting Canadian Infidels’ content after the ban was announced that were not caught by Facebook. There appeared to be coordinated activity between two of the pages, which promoted the same Yellow Vest event and published the same memes at roughly the same time.
“Facebook promised to remove affiliated pages, and we’re waiting for them to do so in a comprehensive manner,” Balgord siad. “Facebook has a legal responsibility under the Canadian Human Rights Act to proactively remove them.”
Balgord said several other prominent white nationalist groups, including Atalante Quebec and Fédération des Québécois de Souche, were not part of Facebook’s ban, and still remain on the platform.
“To the best of my knowledge they didn’t consult with any Canadian experts,” Balgord said. “If they did, we would have provided a better list.”
Researchers have noted that hate, racism, and Islamophobia are out of control on Facebook. Megan Squire, an Elon University computer science professor who researches online extremism, found white nationalist, conspiracy and anti-Muslim groups have built up a large, interconnected network on the platform.
“They know that by using the social media platforms they can spread their message and they figured out how to do that,” she previously told BuzzFeed News.
Marco Chown Oved is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @marcoovedCraig Silverman is the media editor of Buzzfeed News. Jane Lytvynenko is a reporter for Buzzfeed News