OTTAWA—A Facebook page that promotes false, far-right and anti-Muslim content using deceptive techniques has been allowed to continue operating for nearly a month while the social media platform investigated its activities.
Now, Facebook says the page doesn’t violate its community standards, showing how close to the line purveyors of false or misleading information can play in Canada’s upcoming federal election.
A recent report by the Toronto Star and BuzzFeed News showed Never Again Canada, which has nearly 235,000 followers, spread misleading content and used a URL-masking technique to deceive its audience for months. The page also promotes and has ties to the Canadian chapter of the Jewish Defense League, an offshoot of a U.S. organization which the FBI has deemed a “right-wing terrorist group.”
For months, Never Again Canada posted links that looked like they were leading to Blogger, the popular Google blogging platform. Instead, anyone who clicked on the link was redirected to other websites.
After investigating the issue for nearly a month, Facebook said the page does not violate the company’s community standards.
“We take abuse of our systems incredibly seriously,” Facebook Canada said in a statement Wednesday. “We proactively look for bad actors, and investigate concerns when they are raised. We are continually reviewing activity on our platform for potential violation of our policies and will take action in line with our community standards.”
Facebook’s community standards say the company doesn’t allow “misrepresentation,” but Never Again Canada has been able to continue the misleading link redirection.
In the weeks since BuzzFeed News and the Star published the investigation, the page has shared conspiracies and anti-Muslim narratives surrounding the Notre Dame fire, promoted petitions and events by the Jewish Defense League, and continued to post misleading political content as the Canadian election nears.
The page also published, and later removed, a false video purporting to show militants in Gaza firing rockets at Israel. The video was actually made in Belarus in 2014.
Previously, Avi Shomer, Never Again Canada’s founder, said in an email that he can’t be held responsible for all the content on the page because he is simply one of 34 administrators and doesn’t know all of the others.
“I was the guy who got it started, that does not mean that I now own or control it. Since it has grown, it has spiralled out of my hands,” Shomer’s statement read.
Over the past month, Facebook says it has taken steps in Canada, the United States, and the UK to ban far-right and white nationalist voices, as well as those who peddle conspiracy theories, from its platform.
On April 8, Facebook Canada announced that several far-right personalities and hate groups — including failed Toronto mayoral candidate Faith Goldy, the Soldiers of Odin, and the Canadian Nationalist Front — would be removed from its platform.
A month later, the social media company banned several more well-known far-right personalities, including Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Loomer, Paul Joseph Watson. It also banned Nation of Islam founder Louis Farrakhan, who has a history of making inflammatory anti-Semitic statements.
But Facebook has had trouble enforcing those bans. A day after Faith Goldy’s page and profile were removed from the platform, BuzzFeed News and the Star reported that paid ads for her website could still be found on Facebook.
After Farrakhan was removed, Reuters reported thousands of videos of his comments were being posted across Facebook and Instagram. In Canada, members of banned white nationalist groups remain on Facebook, according to Anti-Racist Sudbury, which has kept track of the company’s progress.
The long investigation time and a lack of enforcement of Facebook’s own policies also comes as Canadian lawmakers and the country’s intelligence community voice anxiety over the potential of foreign interference in the upcoming election. Democratic Minister Karina Gould has said that the government is considering regulating social media giants, saying “all options are on the table.”
In a written statement, a spokesperson for Gould said the government expects platforms “to address these issues and how they contribute to the spread of disinformation.”
It’s also why the government is emphasizing “citizen resilience,” and suggested that the best way to counter to misinformation is an informed population.
“It’s important that Canadians think critically about what they see online, and to think before they share as a way to stop the spread of disinformation,” wrote Amy Butcher.
“We don’t tolerate hateful speech in print, on TV or on radio, and we shouldn’t tolerate it online either.”
Craig Silverman is the media editor of Buzzfeed News. Jane Lytvynenko is a reporter for Buzzfeed News
Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier
Marco Chown Oved is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @marcooved