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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Pressure mounts on Facebook after Twitter suspends Britain First account

The far-right group, which regularly posts inflammatory videos purporting to show Muslims engaged in acts of violence, sprung from obscurity last month thanks to President Trump retweeting their deputy leader’s tweets

Britain First has 1.93 million likes on Facebook. AFP / LOIC VENANCE
Britain First has 1.93 million likes on Facebook. AFP / LOIC VENANCE

Facebook is under pressure to do more to combat hate speech after its rival social network, Twitter, suspended accounts belonging to the far-right group Britain First and its leaders.

British MPs grilled Facebook on Tuesday about Britain First's profile page, where the group regularly posts inflammatory videos purporting to show Muslims engaged in acts of violence.

The social network admitted there were “issues” with the page, but said it was "very cautious" about removing political speech.

Britain First’s account, and those of its leader Paul Golding and deputy leader Jayda Fransen, were temporarily shut down by Twitter on Monday as part of the social network’s new policy to combat "hateful conduct and abuse" on the platform.

The group sprung from obscurity last month when US president Donald Trump retweeted three tweets from Ms Fransen's account that contained videos claiming to show acts of violence by Muslims, including a murder and an assault.

At a meeting of the Home Affairs Committee, MPs questioned executives from online giants Facebook, Twitter and Google about what they were doing to tackle hate speech, questioning them harshly over why specific content hadn’t been removed from their platforms.

On Britain First, Facebook's director of public policy Simon Milner said it was reviewing the future of its profile page.

"Clearly there are issues with the page but we are very cautious about political speech," he said.

The committee’s chairperson Yvette Cooper said that some progress had been made, but all three firms "needed to do more" on hate speech, given they are among the "richest companies in the world".

Ms Cooper also questioned Facebook about an “Islamophobic post” and an adult page encouraging the posting of school girl images, despite her challenging them on similar issues back in February.

While she praised Twitter for “doing the right thing” when it came to Britain First, she told the BBC that such organisations should be able to do that on their own without the deadline of a Parliamentary hearing.

“It is welcome that [Twitter] have taken action,” she said. “We did question Facebook on why they haven’t taken similar action, and on the way in which we need these organisations to look at the offline activities as well as the online activities, and to see if what they’re doing is actually preaching those standards.”

Despite a membership which is estimated to be between 300 and 400 people, according to the British anti-fascist advocacy group Hope Not Hate, Britain First has a wide digital reach which, even before Mr Trump’s intervention, had made their strand of anti-Islamic hate speech so pernicious.

The group has 1.93 million likes on Facebook.

Following Mr Trump's actions, a major diplomatic row threatened to break out between Britain and the US after prime minister Theresa May criticised the president, who in turn responded by criticising Mrs May's record on fighting terrorism.

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Read more:

Britain First leader suspended from Twitter

Trump fires back at Britain’s May after she tells him it was 'wrong' to re-tweet anti-Muslim videos

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British politicians of all parties demanded that a state visit by Mr Trump to the UK pencilled in for 2018 be shelved.

Ms Fransen, 31, appeared in court in Belfast, Northern Ireland, last week accused of threatening behaviour, a charge for which she has been released on bail. Mr Golding was also arrested and charged.

During Tuesday’s committee hearing, Google promised an annual transparency report on the issue of combating abusive content. Facebook and Twitter said they were considering a similar course of action, although they did not commit to it.

Twitter's decision to suspend Britain First’s account on Monday drew praise from civil rights groups.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, commended Twitter "for taking these significant steps to tackle hate on their platform”.

The group Muslim Advocates, which had publicly called for the removal of Britain First's account, applauded Twitter for "updating its policies and taking steps today to remove violent and hateful accounts from its platform".

The guidelines, announced a month ago and put into force this week, address hateful images or symbols, including those attached to user profiles.

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