Facebook has banned Britain First from its platform, saying the far-right group has “repeatedly posted content designed to incite animosity and hatred against minority groups”.
Britain First’s Facebook page, which had more than 2m likes, and the pages of the two leaders, Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen, have been banned from the social network.
“We are an open platform for all ideas and political speech goes to the heart of free expression,” Facebook said in a statement. “But political views can and should be expressed without hate. People can express robust and controversial opinions without needing to denigrate others on the basis of who they are.”
“We have community standards that clearly 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,” the company added. “Political parties, like individuals and all other organisations on Facebook, must abide by these standards and where a page or person repeatedly breaks our community standards we remove them.” The group will also not be allowed to set up any further pages in the future.
Facebook did not confirm which specific posts were responsible for the pages being removed, but the Guardian understands that they included one comparing Muslim immigrants to animals, another labelling the group’s leaders “Islamophobic and proud”, and videos created to incite hateful comments against Muslims.
Last week, Fransen and Golding were jailed for a series of hate crimes against Muslims. The pair, who received 36 weeks’ and 18 weeks’ imprisonment respectively, were arrested in May 2017 as part of an investigation into the distribution of leaflets and online videos posted during a trial at Canterbury crown court in the same month.
Britain First was deregistered as a political party in November 2017.
Its sizeable social media presence, particularly on Facebook, has been a key driver in the group’s growth. It achieved international notoriety in November 2017, when Donald Trump retweeted a handful of videos posted on Twitter by Fransen, then Britain First’s deputy leader. The president shared them without further comment, but his perceived support was received warmly by Fransen, who posted a video of herself shortly after celebrating his retweets.
The group has employed novel tactics to drum up support on social media, frequently enjoying viral success with simple memes designed to encourage people to like or follow their page through appeals to patriotism and nationalism.
A report released earlier this month by the anti-fascist organisation Hope Not Hate, suggested the far-right organisation had the “second most liked Facebook page in the politics and society category in the UK – after the royal family”.
The report said Britain First had nearly twice as many as Facebook likes as Labour, which it said was the mainstream party with the most likes. Despite that, in 2014, when Fransen stood for parliament in a byelection, she lost her deposit, receiving just 56 votes.
“More than any other group, Britain First overstepped the mark, even going as far as to show Isis-style beheadings,” Matthew Collins, Hope Note Hate’s head of research, told the Guardian. “The group became the real ‘Facebook fascists’ and there may be reason to believe the group could even fold if Facebook stays strong and follows up on the mirror and back-up sites Britain First has.
“With Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen jailed, there are already significant problems behind the scenes over access to the group’s social media, website and bank accounts. It could very well be all the way downhill for them from here.”
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Britain First is a vile and hate-fuelled group whose sole purpose is to sow division. Their sick intentions to incite hatred within our society via social media are reprehensible, and Facebook’s decision to remove their content is welcome.”