Research from Scram News has found that groups and individuals in the UK have been allowed to advertise Islamophobia, hate and outright misinformation on Facebook, despite the company’s claims that hate and lies are banned from adverts.
Facebook earns roughly $16.6bn from advertising every quarter, and among those to have paid for adverts is the group ‘For Britain’ – a far-right party established by former UKIP leadership candidate Anne Marie Waters.
Delving into Facebook’s library of published adverts, we discovered that For Britain has been paying to spread anti-Muslim hate and lies.
‘For Britain in Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire’ has paid to advertise multiple videos by Waters. In one of these videos, Waters says that refugee migration from Muslim countries is causing “the death of the nation-state.” She also suggests that refugees are bringing “mass, mass, serious crime to Europe,” citing a paper by disgraced former UKIP MEP Janice Atkinson.
For context, crime in Germany (home to 1.4 million refugees, comfortably the highest number in Europe) has in recent years fallen to its lowest level since 1992.
But, For Britain isn’t the only group spreading misinformation and hate via Facebook adverts.
The Gravesham branch of UKIP has paid to advertise an image of Shamima Begum – the young woman who left Britain to join Islamic State – with a ‘Vote Labour’ banner superimposed on the picture.
A Facebook page called ‘Brexit Votes Matter’ has also been directing hate at Members of Parliament through Facebook adverts, using aggressive, threatening language.
In one advert, the page claims that, “Treacherous globalist scum have taken over our country.” And, in another, it alleges that “The likes of Starmer, Soubrey, Umuna, Grieve, Burkow, Khan etc [sic] and the FAKE media are now CROSSING THE LINE of TREASON to our Democracy.”
Following the example of UKIP Gravesend, ‘Brexit Votes Matter’ have also used Begum to promote their message. One of their posts features a picture of Begum alongside multiple guns and a bearded baby. This photoshopped image was advertised on Facebook and reached up to 5,000 people, before it was taken down for breaching the social network’s advertising policies.
Other pages show less aptitude for Photoshop but have been allowed to advertise equally repulsive views. On 17th March, a page called “Keep kids of dudley [sic] borough safe”, published an insipid rant about immigrants and paid for it to be advertised on Facebook. The post conflates immigration, the building of Mosques, and terrorism. It also calls for Dudley voters to pick UKIP at the local elections, or else “we’ll be overrun in 30 years time”.
Facebook’s advertising policies prohibit content that is discriminatory, ‘disrespectful’ or ‘deceptive’, so it is unclear why these adverts have been allowed on the site.
We showed this evidence to the anti-racism group Hope Not Hate, who said:
“Facebook has been asleep at the wheel… At a time of rising far right terror and hate crimes, it’s deeply irresponsible to allow this sort of content on any social platform, let alone make money off it through advertising.”
We also sent these adverts to Facebook, who say they’re in the process of investigating. A spokesman said: “Individuals and organisations who spread hate, and who attack or call for the exclusion of others because of who they are, have no place on Facebook.
“However, in order to balance freedom of speech we do allow people to discuss and criticise broad religions, institutions, ideas and beliefs if done in a way that won’t lead to real-world harm.
“We recognise this is a tough balance to get right and our decisions will not always please everyone, which is why we encourage people to report content that they find questionable or offensive.”