Facebook users freely post about killing immigrants, minorities, and public figures in spite of the company’s terms of service that clearly prohibit threats of violence and hate speech.
The company just two weeks ago touted new technology it says detects 52 percent of hate speech before anyone reports it. (Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg claimed the technology caught 90 percent of pro-ISIS and al Qaeda content.) Yet that technology didn’t catch more than 100 instances in the last six months of Facebook users advocating to shoot or kill others, according to a Daily Beast review.
Nearly three-quarters of the posts examined by The Daily Beast made reference to migrant caravans that have been demonized by right-wing media and President Donald Trump.
“Just shoot them as they cross. Ammo is cheaper than barbed wire,” wrote a police officer in Oklahoma.
“Just shoot them,” wrote a Maine man wearing a Make America Great Again hat in his profile picture. “Line up a few dead ones as well,” added the safety supervisor at the Maine Yankee Nuclear Power Plant.
It’s “time to start shooting” the migrants, many Facebook users wrote, calling them “barbarians,” “invaders,” and “criminals.”
“Good job Mr. President!” a woman from Missouri wrote atop a link to a story about Trump authorizing the use of lethal force at the border. “Just shoot them!”
Despite the posts, a Facebook representative touted to The Daily Beast the company’s technology to help remove hate speech. Even after admitting they had been blocked from the site for hate speech, several users continued posting about killing people.
Donald Christianson told The Daily Beast he had been banned for 30 days after saying John Kerry should be shot. After he was banned, Christianson wrote that Broward County, Florida elections supervisor Brenda Snipes should also be shot for being a “traitorous bitch.” (He linked to a story saying Snipes had allowed illegal immigrants to vote in the election.)
Christianson denied that he wanted to shoot these people himself.
“What I was saying was someone should. I think the American government ought to step in... and take care of this because that’s what we’ve always done with traitors.”
Only after The Daily Beast informed Facebook of Christianson’s post about Snipes, did the company ban him again for 30 days, he said.
Facebook’s permissive treatment of violent and hateful speech comes during a time of internal crisis for the company. The New York Times revealed last month that company leaders ignored calls from within their ranks about hate speech and offensive content on the platform, including from Trump himself. They were also criticized internally and by Congress for being slow to catch Russian election interference and not coming clean afterwards.
Facebook’s terms of service say hate speech violations should be punished, with options ranging from warnings to permanent bans to being reported to law enforcement. Yet Facebook apparently did nothing, time after time, until the posts were brought to the company’s attention by The Daily Beast.
“We’ve reviewed the content that was shared with us and removed posts that violated our policies, the majority of which were not previously reported to us,” Facebook said in a statement.
On a Trump fan page, 22,000 people commented on—most of them in support of—a question of whether they approved of the president allowing the use of lethal force at the border.
“I say fuck it,” an Oregon man wrote. “Don't kill them. Catch them and turn them into slaves and make them build our Walls.”
Facebook said it declined to remove several posts containing calls for violence even after they were flagged by The Daily Beast, saying they did not violate policies as they advocated for particular government and national security policies, or because they did not attack someone for their protected characteristics, or harass an individual.
Three of those posts are from Christianson, who’s been banned twice.
When CNN anchor Don Lemon said it was acceptable for protesters to harass Republicans in public, one user said the only “right these barbarrian [sic] mobs have is to be shot like crazed rabid animals.”
Another person asked “how about someone shoot these assholes” in reference to Beto O’Rourke’s campaign discussing giving aid to migrants.
A migrant mother photographed fleeing tear gas on the border should be “horsewhipped” someone else wrote. A judge who dismissed charges against a Muslim man who was allegedly training school shooters “is a traitor and should be shot,” another wrote. All are not violations of Facebook’s terms of service.
Across Facebook, posts also called for the shooting or killing of Muslims, antifa, African-Americans, police officers, public figures like David Hogg, Barack Obama, and Elizabeth Warren, among many others. The posts discovered by The Daily Beast were created by users whose profiles remain public. (Many Facebook users can restrict their profiles by modifying privacy settings, meaning there could be more posts that can be seen only by Facebook itself.)
But it isn’t just threats of violence. Several users appeared to be in direct violation of Facebook’s community standards. On Nov. 25 alone, a Texas man referred to Rep. Eric Swalwell as a “swallowing faggot” and wrote “piss on queers” in response to two women kissing during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. He also called the Prophet Muhammad a “child molesting piece of shit.”
“Shoot them,” he wrote of the caravan that day. “Some will die the rest will quit.” Those posts were taken down after The Daily Beast reached out to Facebook for comment.
Like the Texas man, many of the hateful and violent comments came from white users. In 2017, ProPublica reported on internal Facebook documents that showed the company had an apparent bias toward protecting the speech of whites while flagging posts by black and other minority users.
Republicans have accused Facebook of censorship when the company cracks down on terms of service violations on the right. In response to right-wing criticism, Facebook hired a former Republican senator to lead a review of alleged anti-conservative bias.
Two progressive groups wrote a letter to Facebook last week criticizing what they said was a systemic problem of “hate speech, doxxing, voter suppression and Facebook’s failure to protect the safety and security of Black users and users of color.”
The groups, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Color of Change, called for an internal “civil rights audit.”
“Facebook has a responsibility to ensure that the platform is not used to drive bigotry and stoke racial or religious resentment and violence,” the organizations wrote. “But for years, Facebook’s refusal to acknowledge and/or chronic mismanagement of civil and human rights violations occurring on the platform have raised many questions about Facebook—primarily, whether you are willing or able to fix the toxic online environment that you have allowed to flourish.”
Update, 12/4/18, 3:45 p.m.: Facebook took down posts advocating to shoot members of Beto O'Rourke's campaign staff and advocating to shoot migrants who are part of traveling caravans later.