Should Facebook ban far-right extremists?

The 360 is a feature designed to show you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

Speed read

What's happening: In an effort to tamp down extremism on its platform, Facebook permanently banned some accounts for violating its policies on "dangerous individuals and organizations." “InfoWars” conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan were among the people booted from both Facebook and Instagram.

Why there's debate: The move was celebrated by those who believe Jones and other banned far-right personalities incite violence, though some questioned whether Facebook was truly committed to a wider campaign to purge extremist accounts.

The bans added evidence to a popular belief on the right that social media companies are biased against conservatives, as right-wing personalities Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Loomer, Paul Joseph Watson and Paul Nehlen were also removed. The GOP-controlled Senate has held hearings on what Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called "political bias and censorship on the part of big tech." President Trump tweeted that he would "monitor" the situation and cited freedom of speech concerns, though First Amendment protections do not apply to private companies.

There are also nonpolitical concerns about whether Mark Zuckerberg and his executives should be trusted to determine what counts as extremism or if they're qualified to do so, given the company's recent scandals and the lack of transparency in its decision-making process.

What's next: It’s unclear if this is only the first step of a broader effort by Facebook to stifle misinformation and hate speech. The company may be compelled to do more soon. Countries around the world have proposed a variety of laws that would punish social media platforms and their executives with fines. Australia even passed a law threatening jail time if companies fail to control violent content.

And more pressure could come in the U.S. In a recent campaign speech, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., vowed to hold social media companies "accountable" for their content if she’s elected president next year. Facebook co-founder Mark Hughes, who is no longer with the company, called for legislators to break the business up, in part for the way it has handled extremist speech.


Facebook is right to ban dangerous extremists.

"It has long been obvious that social networks need to do more to control the accounts of people who spread hate on their platforms." — Kara Alaimo, CNN

"Even as we are under no illusion that kicking out Jones, Farrakhan and the like will halt the rise of racism, anti-Semitism or other bigotry. Nonetheless, if it makes them harder to spread? So be it." — Editorial, New York Daily News

Banning a handful of people is irrelevant without a broader campaign to eliminate hate.

"Unless this move is part of an overall cleanup effort in which the company includes its rationale for taking action and promises to do so consistently into the future, don’t expect Facebook to become free of bigotry anytime soon." — April Glaser, Slate

"This move by Facebook is a step in the right direction, opening doors to making its platforms safer and inspiring some optimism that the tech company might be capable of taking responsibility for the ways its platforms have empowered extremists. But it is clear that there is more to do." — Cristina López G, Media Matters, deputy director of extremism

The bans are a result of anti-conservative bias.

"Political censorship on Facebook appears to be far more extreme than anyone could have imagined. And it should come as no surprise that this censorship is all directed towards conservatives." — Brian Robertson, Washington Examiner

Determining what people see is too much responsibility for Facebook to have.

"Do you trust Mark Zuckerberg and the other young lords of Silicon Valley to be good stewards of the world’s digital speech? I don't..." — Bret Stephens, New York Times

"The most problematic aspect of Facebook’s power is Mark’s unilateral control over speech. There is no precedent for his ability to monitor, organize and even censor the conversations of two billion people." — Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, The New York Times

The bans undermine the spirit of openness that was a founding principle of the internet.

"We are losing some of the utopian potential of the internet every time a new clampdown on content or process takes place." — Nick Gillespie, Reason

The bans are legal, but they violate the spirit of free speech.

"The worst thing about Facebook’s ban is that runs counter to the long-running American tradition of trusting the public with knowledge, even knowledge that is potentially 'dangerous.'" — Jack Shafer, Politico

"If we cheer on Facebook and Twitter as they remove from their platforms people we find offensive, what happens when somebody finds something we say to be offensive?" — John Feehery, The Hill

Free speech laws don't protect the right to post on Facebook.

"The 1st Amendment protects free speech only against infringement by the government, not private entities. In fact, a company like Facebook has every legal right to determine who may participate on its platform and what they may or may not say." — Editorial, Los Angeles Times

Facebook's decision-making process is opaque and arbitrary.

"The bans highlight the arbitrary nature of Facebook’s decisions to bar prominent individuals from posting on its services. The company acts as both judge and jury on who is allowed to host material on its network, with accounts often removed only following sustained criticism in the media." — Kari Paul and Jim Waterson, The Guardian

Read more 360s