national socialist movement
© Reuters / Jim Urquhart
Commander Jeff Schoep of the National Socialist Movement, a white nationalist group, speaks at a rally in Arkansas
Facebook has announced that it will ban content relating to 'white nationalism' and 'white separatism' from its platform. The nature of the content that will be banned raises some free speech concerns.

Facebook's hate speech policies already forbid any content praising or promoting "white supremacy." The company has, until now, drawn a distinction between this content and "white nationalism" and "white separatism," much to the ire of civil rights activists, who argue that the terms are interchangeable.

"Going forward," the company announced in a blog post on Wednesday, "while people will still be able to demonstrate pride in their ethnic heritage, we will not tolerate praise or support for white nationalism and separatism."

As of next week, users attempting to post such content will be redirected to Life After Hate, a nonprofit staffed by former extremists that seek to turn young people away from white supremacy. The new policy will apply to both Facebook and Instagram.

White nationalism and white separatism are hazy concepts. Facebook initially considered them in the same category of Basque separatism in Spain, the Zionist movement, or Malcolm X-style black separatism. However, the latest decision seems to place explicitly white movements into a category of their own.

Enforcing the ban will likely prove controversial, especially in the United States where Facebook has been accused of a pervasive anti-conservative bias. Phrases like "I am a proud white nationalist" and "Immigration is tearing this country apart; white separatism is the only answer" will now be banned, the company told Motherboard. Less explicit and "coded" references will be removed on a case-by-case basis, an opaque policy that will surely draw accusations of misuse.

Behind the scenes, most of the content sifting will be done using artificial intelligence and machine learning, Facebook said on Wednesday.

Facebook's clampdown on the extreme right comes less than two weeks after gunman Brenton Tarrant murdered 50 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Tarrant livestreamed his rampage on Facebook, and the social media giant was criticized for failing to take down reposts of the video quick enough in the days afterward.

Tarrant's murder spree, inspired by a blend of white supremacist and fascist ideologies, prompted New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Arden to issue a "global call" to fight the "ideology" of racism, particularly online.