Facebook has banned British far-right group Britain First, saying the organization repeatedly broke social networking standards by sharing content "designed to incite animosity and hatred against minority groups." The official Britain First Facebook page has been removed, as have the pages of group leader Paul Golding and vice president Jayda Fransen.
In a blog post, Facebook said it had warned the group about its publications without effect, and that the ban was not a decision it took "lightly." "We are an open platform for all ideas and political discourse goes to the heart of free expression," Facebook said. "[But] there are times when legitimate political discourse crosses the line and becomes a hate speech designed to provoke hatred against groups in our society."
With only a few thousand members and repeated failures to elect government candidates, Britain First has no direct political influence in the United Kingdom. But, like many extremist organizations, he has been an effective communicator in social networks. The main Facebook page of the group had more than 2 million likes, and the videos that it shared on Twitter were notably retweeted by the president of the United States, Donald Trump, last November. Its main focus is Islamophobia, with the group advocating the "invasions" of British mosques and film visits to the supposed "forbidden" areas in towns and cities where they harangue locals and hand out leaflets.
These videos may be just stunts, but the group, along with other organizations on the far right of the UK, have helped inspire violence. In June 2016, a British Labor MP named Jo Cox was stabbed and shot to death by a right-wing terrorist, Thomas Mair, who shouted "Britain first" during the attack and "death to traitors" in a later appearance at the cut. Mair's connection to Britain First has never been proven, but his rhetoric echoed his message online.
Facebook has been struggling for years with how to deal with extremist content on its platform, but rarely intervenes directly. Even so, the prohibition is more symbolic than the beginning of an effective campaign against hate groups. A recent investigation by Wired UK found a complete network of Facebook pages linked to Britain First that share the same content. At the time of writing these pages are still online.