Racism and disinformation: Facebook cleans up

Facebook on Tuesday banned groups claiming to be from the far-right American “Boogaloo”, one more action by the network under heavy pressure to purge the platform of racist, violent, hateful and also deceptive content.

Now classified in the “dangerous individuals and organizations” category, “this violent network is banned from all presence on our platform and we will remove all content that supports it, promotes it or represents it,” said a statement.

A few hours earlier, Facebook had announced new rules for prioritizing articles on users’ news feeds to promote quality information and combat disinformation and sterile sensationalism.

And already Friday, Mark Zuckerberg opened the ball of concessions.

The head of the Californian group said that Facebook would now remove more types of “hate speech” and hide messages considered problematic by politicians, until now tolerated as such.

The social media giant, accused of laxity over political disinformation and toxic content, is indeed facing an unprecedented boycott.

The accusations are not new, but in the context of demonstrations against systemic racism in the United States, associations have called on brands to strike where it hurts: advertising revenue.

Nearly 200 companies, including Coca-Cola, Levis, Unilever and Starbucks, are now boycotting Facebook for the entire month of July, and beyond, and asking the company to review its copy on these subjects.

From the broom, the “Boogaloo”

Facebook on Tuesday removed 220 Facebook accounts, 95 Instagram accounts, 28 pages and 106 groups that currently make up the “Boogaloo” network, as well as 400 other groups and more than 100 pages that hosted similar content.

The movement, which is neither very organized nor very united, includes anti-government and pro-gun activists, neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Its heavily armed followers have repeatedly tried to disrupt recent anti-racist protests, which have been taking place for a month in response to the death of George Floyd, an African-American killed by a white police officer.

They have worried American officials since one of them killed two police officers in California in early June.

Facebook fears their return to its platform in another terminology, because they communicate and organize themselves via social networks.

In a study released in April, the Tech Transparency Project counted 125 groups dedicated to the Boogaloo ideology on Facebook, with tens of thousands of subscribers discussing weapons, explosives and tactics to attack the authorities.

Friends first

On the sanitation side of the debates, Facebook has decided to prioritize substantiated articles, based on first-hand information and written by identified journalists.

When different articles are published on the same news, the algorithm will identify the one “most often cited as the source of the information” and make it appear at the top.

The platform of 1.73 billion daily users thus attacks the spread of articles and videos, sensationalists, often produced by content farms, and designed to generate “views”, “clicks” and shares .

Facebook says it wants to give priority to “original news covers”, which “play an important role in informing people around the world, from the disclosure of news to in-depth investigations, including the discovery of new facts and data, the communication of the most recent information in times of crisis and the dissemination of testimonies ”.

This is not, however, a major overhaul of the newsfeed. “Most of the information people see on their news feed comes from sources they follow or from sources their friends follow, and that will not change,” Facebook said.

For a substantial part of the citizens, the platform has supplanted television and other media as a filter of access to information.

The awareness of this issue, and of the responsibility of a juggernaut like Facebook, arrived in 2018, when the scandals of the 2016 election broke out, marked by large-scale disinformation campaigns, piloted by foreign.

Approaching the US presidential election in November, the Californian giant has deployed an arsenal of measures, from cybersecurity to moderation, to avoid a new catastrophic scenario.

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