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Facebook bans blackface and certain anti-Semitic conspiracy theories

The company is expanding its hate speech policy to include “harmful stereotypes.”

Facebook updated its hate speech policies to ban people from posting content depicting blackface or anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that Jewish people are running the world. Above, CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying before Congress in 2018.
AFP via Getty Images
Shirin Ghaffary is a senior Vox correspondent covering the social media industry. Previously, Ghaffary worked at BuzzFeed News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and TechCrunch.

Facebook will start banning posts that contain blackface or that promote anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that Jewish people are running the world.

The social media giant announced the expansion of its hate speech policies in a press call on Tuesday morning. Under the new policy, Facebook will no longer allow visual or written posts that depict “caricatures of black people in the form of blackface” or “Jewish people running the world or controlling major institutions such as media networks, the economy or the government.”

These depictions represent examples of “implicit speech” that “has historically been used to disparage, intimidate, or exclude people based on protected characteristics like race or religion,” said Facebook VP of content policy Monika Bickert on the call. Bickert also said the company has been working on revising this policy for about nine months and consulted 60 outside organizations and experts on the matter. Facebook said it will start enforcing its ban on Jewish stereotypes immediately, and the ban on blackface will begin later this month.

While unlikely to eliminate long-standing concerns about the prevalence of hate speech on Facebook’s platform, the move is a notable expansion of the company’s policies restricting it. It is also the kind of restriction that not only covers overt racial slurs but also thinly veiled or disguised racism, which some civil rights groups have long called for Facebook to ban. When Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt spoke with Recode in July, he cited a popular Facebook group promoting baseless conspiracy theories connecting global political conspiracies to a prominent Jewish family as the kind of anti-Semitic content that thrives on the platform.

ADL and other leading civil rights organizations like Color of Change and the NAACP have long been calling for Facebook to do more to stop the spread of hate speech on its platform. The organizations led a month-long boycott of Facebook in July, gaining the support of over 1,000 advertisers and increasing pressure on the company to expand its efforts against hate speech.

“This is a welcome yet overdue step from Facebook. It’s distressing that it took this long for the platform to crack down on these particular forms of hate, when it’s quite obvious they should not have been allowed to proliferate in the first place,” said a spokesperson for the ADL in a statement to Recode. “It’s equally as disturbing that Facebook still doesn’t view Holocaust denial as a violation of their terms of service.”

As Facebook moves to expand its hate speech policies, the platform is still rife with misinformation and sometimes racist content. Recent reports from NBC News and the Guardian show that Facebook groups promoting the QAnon conspiracy, a far-right conspiracy theory about an alleged “deep state” in the US government plotting against Donald Trump, have millions of members and are growing at a rapid pace. QAnon has been found to have anti-Semitic elements, and some of its supporters have committed real-world physical violence in an attempt to uncover the alleged secret plot.

Facebook has long espoused an ethos of trying to moderate speech as little as possible. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to be an “arbiter of truth” on political issues. In 2018, Zuckerberg told Recode co-founder Kara Swisher that people should be allowed to deny the Holocaust on Facebook, even though, as someone who is Jewish, he finds those ideas “deeply offensive.”

But the line can be blurry between what’s a political opinion and what’s a perpetuation of a racist conspiracy theory. It will be up to Facebook to decide how it’s going to enforce the new stricter rules.

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