Facebook removes Proud Boys pages for "hate speech"

Several members of the far-right group were recently arrested after getting into a fight with protesters in New York City.

Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
  • The Proud Boys is a far-right group of "Western chauvinists" that have been linked to multiple instances of politically motivated violence, including clashes with the leftist group Antifa.
  • Facebook suggested the pages trafficked in "organized hate speech."
  • The bans come several months after multiple media platforms removed pages belonging to Alex Jones, another popular far-right figure.

Facebook has banned accounts and pages associated with the Proud Boys, a far-right group of self-described "Western chauvinists," for trafficking in "organized hate speech."

Business Insider reports that Proud Boys accounts were also removed from Instagram. The removals come two weeks after several Proud Boys were arrested after fighting with protesters in New York City.

Thank you those who've submitted info regarding the violent incident which took place on 10-12-18 in the UES. As we further the investigation, we urge additional victims/complainants/witnesses to come forward. If you have info, call CrimeStoppers, 800-577-TIPS pic.twitter.com/amUhGvCJLg
— Chief Dermot F. Shea (@NYPDDetectives) October 15, 2018

​The "purge" of far-right voices from social media

Facebook's removal of Proud Boys pages comes about three months after it banned pages belonging to Alex Jones and his far-right website Infowars. Jones also had pages removed from YouTube, Apple, LinkedIn, Spotify and other platforms.

Jones and some other far-right figures branded the bans as censorship—a purge of conservative voices by the liberal media.

Meanwhile, Facebook said that Jones, and now the Proud Boys, had violated its policies and was therefore subject to being removed from its platform. In any case, Facebook is a publicly traded company that's under no obligation whatsoever to provide unencumbered free speech rights to anyone.

What's interesting is that Facebook has long made it a point to portray itself as a basically editorially neutral tech company, "not a media company," as CEO Mark Zuckerberg once said. The motivation behind this classification is that Facebook can deflect responsibility from making tough editorial decisions if it's only considered to be a neutral tech platform.

But in recent months, the company has been increasingly exercising its publisher discretion—both in highly publicized cases like the Alex Jones bans and in court.

In a 2018 lawsuit against Facebook, an app startup alleged that Facebook developed a "malicious and fraudulent scheme" to weaponize users' data and force rival companies out of business. Sonal Mehta, a lawyer for Facebook, suggested that Facebook is like traditional media companies, a characterization that doesn't quite fit with past descriptions from company spokespeople.

"The publisher discretion is a free speech right irrespective of what technological means is used. A newspaper has a publisher function whether they are doing it on their website, in a printed copy or through the news alerts."

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