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Facebook was once praised for spreading free speech values, but with the company's ban on white extremist content, we have reached an inflection point. The world is pushing back with different values, which are now being imported by Facebook to the U.S. Here's NPR's Aarti Shahani.
AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: The worldwide ban goes into effect this week, and the move by Facebook, which is wrapped up in the U.S. culture wars, is actually the result of international pressure forcing the company's hand. Facebook says under the new rules, you cannot post in a celebratory way on its news feed or Instagram, I'm a white nationalist, but you can post, I'm a black nationalist. Some Americans find this outrageous or...
JOHN SPIER: Ridiculous.
SHAHANI: John Spier, self-described libertarian Facebook user in central California.
SPIER: I feel like everyone should be able to have freedom of expression, even if they're an idiot. There's a lot of idiots in the world who say a lot of stupid things; we don't need to protect people from that.
SHAHANI: What racism is, who can be racist - it's a debate that's getting louder in the U.S. Spier believes that, while Facebook claims to be a neutral platform, the company is taking the liberal side.
SPIER: I know that the current popular mode of thought is that only white people can be racist, but I don't agree with that. I grew up as a minority white person in a largely Latino community, and believe me, I know what racism feels like.
SHAHANI: Facebook is an NPR sponsor. According to Facebook leaders and civil rights advocates, this issue is not about speech but safety. It's a well-documented fact. White extremists around the world are radicalizing men online, luring them into organized hate groups and promoting lone wolf acts of terror.
HEIDI BEIRICH: White supremacists are as much a global movement and interconnected - in other words, sharing ideas, sharing money, sharing tactics, sharing propaganda, visiting each other, et cetera, et cetera - just like you see with Islamic extremists.
SHAHANI: Heidi Beirich with the Southern Poverty Law Center has been making this point to Facebook for years. Dylann Roof, who murdered nine people in a church basement in Charleston, got radicalized through Google search. The white nationalist rally in Charlottesville that left three dead and dozens injured was organized on a Facebook page. The Christchurch shooter in New Zealand used Facebook Live, an incredibly powerful broadcast tool. Beirich says the company's latest move is in reaction to the disaster in New Zealand and pressure from law enforcement, particularly those in Europe who are worried about white extremist gunmen.
BEIRICH: That realization is dawning on the intelligence communities worldwide, and Facebook is hearing it from them.
SHAHANI: Facebook made the unusual move of adding Christchurch massacre footage to a terrorism database that had been focused on Islamic extremism. A Facebook spokesperson says the company will continue to add white extremist content to this database which a handful of tech giants share to censor the most violent content. Again, this is in the face of international pressure. Australia just passed a stringent bill that threatens social media employees with prison time if they don't remove violent content expeditiously. The United Kingdom is about to unveil legislation. Germany has passed tough hate speech laws that carry heavy fines. Heidi Beirich...
BEIRICH: The U.S. is behind the eight ball on this; Trump doesn't seem to be interested in these issues at all. And I think Facebook is reacting to that in a good way, I would argue.
SHAHANI: About 90 percent of Facebook users are outside the U.S. Last week, Mark Zuckerberg called on governments around the world to create and effect a global standard for speech. That has never existed before. It's a long shot, and as Zuckerberg sees it, that's what needs to be engineered next. Aarti Shahani, NPR News.
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