March 27, 2019 / 6:06 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 3-Facebook bans white nationalism, white separatism on its platforms

(Recasts with comments from NZ Prime Minister Ardern)

March 28 (Reuters) - Facebook Inc on Wednesday banned praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism, a move that drew qualified approval from New Zealand where a massacre of 50 people in mosques was live streamed earlier this month.

Civil rights groups have said social media giants have failed to confront extremism and that was under the spotlight this month after a suspected white supremacist broadcast live footage of his attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Facebook, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc's YouTube have been under pressure to remove white supremacist and neo-Nazi content from their platforms, along with fake news and other types of abusive posts.

In response, Facebook has beefed up its content monitoring teams and taken down event pages that were used to promote and organize rallies by white supremacist groups.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has called for social media platforms to be accountable for what users post, said material covered by the measures should arguably have already been banned under Facebook's hate-speech rules.

"Having said that, I'm pleased to see that they are including it, and that they have taken that step, but I still think that there is a conversation to be had with the international community about whether or not enough has been done," she told a media conference in Christchurch on Thursday.

"There are lessons to be learnt here in Christchurch and we don't want anyone to have to learn those lesson over again."

The policy will be enforced next week, Facebook said in a blog here post, and will apply to both its core Facebook app and Instagram.

Facebook has long banned white supremacy under its rules on "hateful" content, but did not previously consider white nationalist or separatist content to be explicitly racist.

Tech publication Motherboard, which first reported the policy change on Wednesday, revealed that the company was maintaining the distinction last year after an investigation into its content moderation policies.

Civil rights groups say there is no distinction between the ideologies.

In a statement, Facebook said it had initially been wary of infringing on broader concepts of nationalism and separatism, which it said are "an important part of people's identity."

"But over the past three months our conversations with members of civil society and academics who are experts in race relations around the world have confirmed that white nationalism and separatism cannot be meaningfully separated from white supremacy and organized hate groups," the company said.

"Going forward, while people will still be able to demonstrate pride in their ethnic heritage, we will not tolerate praise or support for white nationalism and separatism."

Facebook said it would also start connecting people who search for terms associated with white supremacy to an organization called Life After Hate, focused on helping people leave hate groups.

Life After Hate did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Representative Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, welcomed the new approach but lamented that Facebook had not made the change sooner.

"This should have happened long ago," Thompson said in a statement. "For too long, Facebook has allowed hate speech – and the violence that it can inspire – to propagate on its platform. Since billions use its service, we must demand more from them."

Reporting by Katie Paul and Sonam Rai in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Praveen Menon in Wellington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker & Simon Cameron-Moore

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