A network of white supremacists with more than 80,000 followers and ties to the UK’s far right, including a student accused of terrorist offenses, is being hosted by Facebook and Instagram, putting the world’s largest social media company under new pressure to tackle extremism.
The network, which includes more than 40 neo-Nazi sites, offers merchandise that includes NaziSS symbols and stickers praising Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager under investigation for gunning down two Black Lives Matter protesters in Wisconsin in August.
According to the London-based Center for the fight against digital hate (CCDH), the sales of the products finance two neo-Nazi extremist movements operating out of Ukraine: the Azov Battalion and the Misanthropic Division. The Azov Battalion is believed to have recruited a number of far-right activists from the UK to fight in the Ukraine conflict.
A Briton Faces Trial accused of 12 crimes of terrorism after police found him in possession of extremist material, including clothing and flags linked to the Misaanthropic Division. The student denies the charges.
The disclosure comes as Facebook, under scrutiny for its surveillance of abuse, tries to show that it is addressing hate speech and extremism. However, the CCDH report says that the social media company was first noticed about the neo-Nazi network two years ago, and that it has grown significantly since then.
Imran Ahmed, Executive Director of CCDH, said: “Facebook’s leadership jeopardized public safety by allowing neo-Nazis to fund their activities through Facebook and Instagram.
“Facebook was first informed about this problem two years ago and did not act.”
Ahmed, who is also a member of the pilot group for the government commission to counter extremism, added: “This inaction would not have gone unnoticed by the extremists, who now know that Facebook allows them to recruit, organize and raise funds without interference. “
On Thursday, Facebook, the owner of Instagram, released figures on the prevalence of hate speech on the platform for the first time, revealing that during July, August and September about one in every 1,000 pieces of content viewed included hate speech. Facebook also said it had taken action on 22.1 million pieces of hate speech content during the same three months.
The Azov Battalion and the Misanthropic Division appear to be trying to export their ideology to the West, with reports of links between the latter and “like-minded” groups such as the outlawed British terrorist organization National Action. the Soufan Center, a group of anti-terrorism experts, estimates that 10 “foreign fighters” from the United Kingdom have served in Ukrainian militias such as the Azov Battalion, which uses ingenious propaganda videos in the style of extremist groups such as the Islamic State. The Azov Battalion, a neo-Nazi paramilitary force, is also known to host members of the Rise Above Movement, an American far-right group whose members were jailed for violence at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.
One of their Facebook pages is called “Gas Chambers”. Visitors are directed to sites where other products are available, including images of white skinheads alongside a murdered black man and a Jewish man, with the text: “Aggravated assault – it could happen to you.”
The CCDH investigation also found that extremists were using the encrypted messaging app Telegram to organize their efforts on major platforms, process payments, and spread propaganda.
After being contacted by the Observer, Facebook began removing neo-Nazi material. Later, a company spokesperson said: “We have removed content that violates our policies that prohibit dangerous organizations. We regularly work to improve our technology to find and remove this content faster, and while there is more work to be done, we are making progress. We have banned more than 250 white supremacist organizations on Facebook and Instagram. “
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