Alex Hern and Jim Waterson, The Guardian, February 26, 2019
Tommy Robinson, the far-right founder of the English Defence League, has been permanently banned from Facebook and Instagram for repeatedly breaking the sites’ policies on hate speech, Facebook said.
The company said Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, broke rules that ban public calls for violence against people based on protected characteristics; rules that ban supporting or appearing with organised hate groups; and policies that prevent people from using the site to bully others.
The decision to ban Robinson from the social media sites could threaten his ability to reach large audiences.
Robinson is already banned from Twitter and the decision to cut him off from Instagram and Facebook will leave him reliant on YouTube as the only major online platform to provide him with a presence.
In a blogpost, Facebook said: “When ideas and opinions cross the line and amount to hate speech that may create an environment of intimidation and exclusion for certain groups in society – in some cases with potentially dangerous offline implications – we take action.
“Tommy Robinson’s Facebook page has repeatedly broken these standards, posting material that uses dehumanizing language and calls for violence targeted at Muslims. He has also behaved in ways that violate our policies around organized hate.”
The ban comes a month after Facebook issued a final written warning against Robinson, warning him that if he continued to break the company’s hate speech policies he would be removed from its platform permanently.
That warning had been issued for breaches that included a post calling on people to terrorise and behead those who follow the Qur’an; a post calling on people to “make war” on Muslims; and multiple videos showing people being bullied.
Following that warning, Robinson did break Facebook’s policies again, it says, through:
- Organising and participating in events with recognised hate figures or groups, such as Proud Boys and Gavin McInnes
- Public praise or support for these hate figures and groups
- Public remarks that include hate speech targeted at a specific group in society
- Public calls for violence against people based on issues such as race, ethnicity or national origin.
Under the ban, Robinson’s official Facebook page and Instagram profile will be deleted, as well as any future presence on the site preemptively barred. It will also place Robinson in the same category as other banned personalities such as McInnes, the Proud Boys founder, and the Infowars founder, Alex Jones, meaning that others who allow him access to the site through their own pages or profiles could face disciplinary action themselves.
Facebook added: “Our public Community Standards state this sort of speech is not acceptable on Facebook – and when we become aware of it, we remove it as quickly as we can. Our rules also make clear that individuals and organizations that are engaged in “organized hate” are not allowed on the platform, and that praise or support for these figures and groups is also banned. This is true regardless of the ideology they espouse.”
In the time between Facebook announcing the deletions and them taking effect 24 minutes later, Robinson posted a new video to his Instagram account, accusing the company of working together with the media to censor him. “If this isn’t the evidence that you needed, headlines now from The Guardian, The Guardian, before I’ve been told, so they’re all working together with the media, they have deleted me from Facebook and apparently I’m being deleted from Instagram. I can still make this video at the minute, but I’m being deleted.” He appealed to his supporters follow him to his personal website, saying: “We have to fight this censorship.”
The founder of the EDL thrives on media attention and has often defined himself in opposition to mainstream news outlets, portraying himself as the victim of a smear campaign designed to keep his views off mainstream outlets.
This has proved to be an effective tactic, with his social media videos on supposed mainstream bias often reaching more viewers than original news broadcasts.
In a statement, Tom Watson, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, said: “I welcome Facebook’s decision to remove Tommy Robinson pages under their “Organised Hate” policy. But for far too long this violent thug’s hate-spewing, anti-Islamist tirades were given a platform by Facebook. Today’s decision comes far too late. The public interest demands an end to laissez-faire regulation, so we can create a place where reasonable debate can take place without trolls, extremists and racist thugs seeking to damage and undermine society. That requires an independent social media regulator with teeth.”
Mainstream outlets have struggled to know how to deal with Robinson. When he was interviewed by Sky News last year, Robinson responded by uploading an unedited video of the discussion, which became an online success and was shared far more widely online than the original interview.
Robinson adopted a similar tactic with the BBC’s Panorama, which is investigating the far-right activist. Two weeks ago, Robinson agreed to be interviewed by the programme, only to turn the tables on reporter John Sweeney by revealing he had sent an associate undercover to film the BBC reporter.
He then played Sweeney a series of secretly recorded clips in which the BBC journalist appeared to say that white working-class people would never be allowed on Newsnight.
These awkward interactions were then swiftly packaged by Robinson’s team for distribution on Facebook, where they have attracted millions of views, culminating in the activist holding a protest outside the BBC’s Salford offices last Saturday.