A Facebook page that promotes false, far-right, and anti-Muslim content using deceptive techniques had been allowed to continue operating for nearly a month while the social media platform investigated its activities.
Now Facebook says the page doesn’t violate its community standards, showing how close to the line purveyors of false or misleading information can play in Canada’s upcoming federal election.
A recent report by the Toronto Star and BuzzFeed News showed that Never Again Canada, which has nearly 235,000 followers, spread misleading content and used a URL-masking technique to deceive its audience for months. The page also promotes and has ties to the Canadian chapter of the Jewish Defense League, an offshoot of a U.S. organization that the FBI has deemed a “right-wing terrorist group.”
For months, Never Again Canada posted links that looked as if they were leading to Blogger, the popular Google blogging platform. Instead, anyone who clicked on the link was redirected to other websites.
After investigating the issue for nearly a month, Facebook said the page does not violate the company’s community standards.
“We take abuse of our systems incredibly seriously,” Facebook Canada said in a statement Wednesday. “We proactively look for bad actors, and investigate concerns when they are raised. We are continually reviewing activity on our platform for potential violation of our policies and will take action in line with our community standards.”
Facebook’s community standards say the company doesn’t allow “misrepresentation,” but Never Again Canada has been able to continue the misleading link redirection.
In the weeks since BuzzFeed News and the Star published the investigation, the page has shared conspiracies and anti-Muslim narratives surrounding the Notre Dame fire, promoted petitions and events by the JDL, and continued to post misleading political content as the Canadian election nears.
The page also published, and later removed, a false video purporting to show militants in Gaza firing rockets at Israel. The video was actually made in Belarus in 2014.
Previously, Avi Shomer, Never Again Canada’s founder, said in an email that he can’t be held responsible for all the content on the page because he is simply one of 34 administrators and doesn’t know all of the others.
“I was the guy who got it started, that does not mean that I now own or control it. Since it has grown, it has spiralled out of my hands,” Shomer’s statement read.
Shomer referred BuzzFeed News and the Star to efforts his group has made to discourage racism on its Facebook page, including two statements posted on Never Again Canada’s website denouncing hate speech and “the general disparagement of Muslims.”
“We want Muslim Canadians to feel they are welcome here, that they, too, have a place to come and to contribute their voices in the common fight against anti-Jewish incitement,” reads one statement.
Over the past month, Facebook says, it has taken steps in Canada, the US, and the UK to ban far-right and white nationalist voices, as well as those who peddle conspiracy theories, from its platform.
On April 8, Facebook Canada announced that several far-right personalities and hate groups — including failed Toronto mayoral candidate Faith Goldy, the Soldiers of Odin, and the Canadian Nationalist Front — would be removed from its platform.
A month later, the social media company banned several more well-known far-right personalities, including Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Loomer, and Paul Joseph Watson. It also banned Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has a history of making inflammatory, anti-Semitic statements.
But Facebook has had trouble enforcing those bans. A day after Goldy’s page and profile were removed from the platform, BuzzFeed News and the Star reported that paid ads for her website could still be found on Facebook.
After Farrakhan was removed, Reuters reported that thousands of videos of his comments were being posted across Facebook and Instagram. In Canada, members of banned white nationalist groups remain on Facebook, according to Anti-Racist Sudbury, which has kept track of the company’s progress.
The long investigation time and a lack of enforcement of Facebook’s own policies also come as Canadian lawmakers and the country’s intelligence community voice anxiety over the potential of foreign interference in the upcoming election. Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould has said that the government is considering regulating social media giants, saying “all options are on the table.”
“We recognize that self-regulation is not yielding the results that societies are expecting these companies to deliver,” Gould previously said in an interview.
In a statement, Amy Butcher, a spokesperson for Gould, said they fully "expect platforms to address these issues and how they contribute to the spread of disinformation."
It's also why the government is emphasizing "citizen resilience," she said, and suggested that the best counter to misinformation is an informed population.
"[It's] important that Canadians think critically about what they see online, and to think before they share as a way to stop the spread of disinformation," Butcher wrote.
"We don't tolerate hateful speech in print, on TV or on radio, and we shouldn't tolerate it online either."
Louis Farrakhan is the leader of the Nation of Islam. An earlier version of this post described him as the founder.
Added statements from Avi Shomer reported in a previous article to make clear that Never Again Canada has denounced hate speech and “the general disparagement of Muslims” in statements posted on its website.