FACEBOOK has secretly deleted more than 20 pages run by far right extremists in one of the social media giant’s biggest clampdowns on hate groups, we can reveal.
The pages, which had been viewed by millions of users, have been taken down after the internet company endured criticism for failing to block extremist content.
Anti-racist monitoring groups believe up to 13 of the pages are linked to Jim Dowson, a Scot said to have masterminded social media networks for far right groups across Europe.
Politicians welcomed the Facebook purge yesterday and said other social media companies should take similar action to curb racist and offensive material.
Ian Lucas MP, a member of Westminster’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which has been critical of Facebook, said: “What we have been saying is that Facebook must take responsibility for the views on its platform, when they are dangerous and divisive.
“We always believed that they have had more capacity to do this than they have previously indicated, and this is a very welcome step if they are finally reacting to the pressure that we have been imposing on them.”
The internet monitoring group International Report Bigotry and Fascism believes many of the pages taken down by Facebook over the last fortnight were linked to Dowson, a founder of far right groups Britain First and the Knights Templar International (KTI).
He denies being behind the social media pages and websites, but he and his sister-in-law, Marion Thomas, have been previously connected to them via the bank accounts collecting revenue generated by the sites.
The deleted pages contained links to several websites, all hosted on the same server, urging people to become KTI members and buy Knights Templar items including hats, keyrings, scrolls and cloaks.
The pages shared content against immigration, referred to people from North India as “criminal scum caste” and Muslim communities in Western Europe as “rats’ nests”.
Immediately after the pages were deleted an email, seen by the Sunday Post, was sent to KTI members asking for money to fund a legal case against Facebook.
It stated: “Actions are being drawn up in California and Ireland against these liberal hate mongers and God-hating degenerates. Our legal fightback has commenced against these fascist anti-democratic tech giants. We are demanding a full restoration of our accounts or the free ability to set up new ones. There is lots to do with little time, so please don’t delay sending your contribution.”
KTI and a variety of pages with similar names have all been deleted from Facebook, although YouTube and Twitter pages are still active.
Social media has helped far right groups extend their reach in recent years with Dowson said to be a key figure in planning and financing communication networks.
Claiming credit for helping Donald Trump win the US presidential election, a post on one of his sites explained his social media strategy to “spread devastating anti-Clinton, pro-Trump memes and soundbites into sections of the population too disillusioned with politics to have taken any notice of conventional campaigning.”
Another post said: “Together, people like us helped change the course of history. Every single one of you who forwarded even just one of our posts on social media contributed to the stunning victory for Trump, America and God.”
Dr Paul Jackson, far-right expert and modern historian from Northampton University, said the move by Facebook was “an important change” but added that more had to be done to tackle the problem.
He said: “In recent months Facebook and other social media sites do seem to be taking the issue of extreme right material more seriously.
“This is an important change in their behaviour, and does suggest that ongoing pressure from campaigners and parliamentarians on this issue is having an effect.
“Nevertheless, social media companies are still behind the curve on the issue, and their sites are still being used by far right activists to mainstream their ideas.”
The moves come after Alex Jones, the right-wing American conspiracy theorist and founder of InfoWars, was banned from Facebook, YouTube, Spotify and Apple’s podcasting platform this month.
In March, accounts belonging to Britain First leaders Jayda Fransen and Paul Golding, along with their Britain First Facebook pages, were deleted just days after the pair were jailed for inciting hatred towards Muslims.
Thomas Mair, who killed MP Jo Cox outside her constituency office in 2016, repeatedly shouted “Britain First” as he launched his fatal attack. His trial heard how he had repeatedly searched for far right material online.
On Friday, Facebook said: “We have removed these pages as they breached our community standards. Our staff are also investigating two other pages for similar reasons.”
Anas Sarwar MSP, who leads Holyrood’s cross-party group on tackling Islamophobia, said: “This is a very welcome and long overdue first step by Facebook.
“Social media can be a force for good, but it has also allowed the spread of racism, bigotry and intolerance. While we must all work harder to tackle racism within communities, social media platforms have a duty to remove pages that promote racist material.”
Matthew Collins, head of research for anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate, said: “As Facebook is privately owned, the decision to remove such pages is entirely its own, but one we welcome.”
Other pages which have been removed include Voting UKIP, News Chicken, News Bison and Donald Trump MAGA.
Others not thought to be connected to Dowson, including Visegrad News, were also deleted in the past two days for breaching Facebook’s community guidelines.
Responding to the our questions by email, Dowson described the connection between him and the sites as “fake news” and said: “There are no Facebooks that I own down, removed or even restricted. However, I do see in the media many instances where the tech giants are removing thousands of platforms from Christian, conservative and pro-Brexit organisations. I think that’s deeply worrying for the rule of law and democracy.”
Safety chief: We can’t do it on our own
Facebook has insisted it needs the support of users to win the fight against online hatred.
The social media giant has asked for help from the public after being criticised for not doing enough to remove extremist views.
According to the company’s own figures, its software algorithms are failing to pick up two thirds of hate speech on the platform.
Antigone Davis, Facebook’s head of global safety, said more “human involvement” was needed to weed out hate speech.
She added: “When you’re talking about hate speech, it can require a good deal of context in which to understand the term that someone has used or how they’re using it.
“I think that is an area in which we need human involvement.”
Ms Davis said she did not believe the firm was struggling with the offensive text, and said: “I’d say it’s not as good or not as valuable for hate speech as it is for other content.”
A company report showed Facebook’s detection programmes found 99.7% of spam and 99.5% of terrorist material before it was reported by users, but just 38% of hate speech was found by its software.
Bosses have promised to increase the number of moderators from 10,000 to 20,000 in a bid to tackle hateful content, but refused to say how many would be working on UK pages. Germany, which has a law penalising websites that do not remove hate speech within a set time frame, has 400 Facebook moderators.
No more help for politicians
Facebook will no longer provide support to politicians during election campaigns, the company says.
Staff visited politicians’ offices to help develop online advertising strategies, but will now be told to keep their distance.
The head of Donald Trump’s digital campaign said such assistance helped clinch his presidential election victory, while Hilary Clinton turned down on-site support.
Twitter and Google are thought to also offer the same services but have not yet confirmed whether they will now remove the facility.
Facebook is the second-largest advertising broker behind Google, and said advice will still be available on its website. The firm has not ruled out meeting politicians directly.
Trump reportedly spent $33m on Facebook advertising during the 2016 election campaign.