Facebook removes Trump campaign ads with ‘Nazi’ symbol

Move follows 900 far-right ads taken down as US president accuses social media companies of ‘censorship’.

Anti-fascist organisation Antifa fly flags during a protest against the Alt-right [File: Stephanie Keith/Reuters]

Facebook said on Thursday that it took down posts and ads run by the re-election campaign of US President Donald Trump for violating its policy against organised hate as part of a broader culling of what the social media giant considers inflammatory racial rhetoric. 

The ads showed a red inverted triangle with text asking Facebook users to sign a petition against Antifa, a loosely organised anti-fascist movement.

In a tweet on Thursday, the Anti-Defamation League’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, said: “The Nazis used red triangles to identify their political victims in concentration camps. Using it to attack political opponents is highly offensive.”

The Facebook ads were run on pages belonging to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, and also appeared in ads and organic posts on the “Team Trump” page.

The company said in a statement the ads violated “our policy against organized hate”. 

“Our policy prohibits using a banned hate group’s symbol to identify political prisoners without the context that condemns or discusses the symbol,” said a Facebook company spokesperson.

Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, defended the posts.

“The inverted red triangle is a symbol used by Antifa, so it was included in an ad about Antifa,” said Murtaugh.

“We would note that Facebook still has an inverted red triangle emoji in use, which looks exactly the same, so it’s curious that they would target only this ad. The image is also not included in the Anti-Defamation League’s database of symbols of hate.”

Trump has threatened to designate Antifa a domestic “terror” organisation, though scholars are not sure it is possible for him to do so. 

Antifa members have denied accusations of involvement in “terror”.

The Twitter page of Antifa International – a branch of the loosely organised movement – noted the group does not use that symbol and pointed out it was used in Trump-linked ads more than a year ago. 

European anti-fascist groups initially used the red triangle as a symbol, hoping to reclaim its meaning after World War II, but it is no longer widely used by the movement nor by US Antifa groups, said Mark Bray, a Rutgers University historian and author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook. 

Facebook removed another 900 social media accounts on Tuesday linked to white supremacy groups after members discussed plans to bring weapons to protests over the police killings of Black people.

The accounts on Facebook and Instagram were tied to the Proud Boys and the American Guard, two hate groups already banned on those platforms. 

The Proud Boys were initially considered members of the Alt-right, a re-branding of white nationalist ideology that gained popularity around the time of Trump’s election in 2016. They supported Trump initially, along with other similar groups.

Foreign interference

Social media companies have also been accused of allowing their platforms to be employed by foreign actors to push division in the US. 

Leaders from Facebook and Twitter told the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee on Thursday they had not seen evidence of coordinated foreign interference in conversations about absentee voting or about recent protests on anti-racism and policing.

However, Twitter’s director of global public policy strategy and development, Nick Pickles, said the company had seen a shift from platform manipulation to public tweets from state media and government accounts.

Democratic Representative Jim Himes pressed Facebook’s head of security policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, on what the company was doing to deal with the concern that its algorithm promotes polarisation.

Gleicher said Facebook users did not want to see divisive content, and the platform refocused to emphasise content from friends and family.

3D printed Twitter logo is seen in front of a displayed cyber code
Twitter has faced criticism for not censoring Trump in the past [File: Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters]

The debate over content moderation has intensified in recent weeks. Twitter and Facebook have diverged on how to handle inflammatory posts by Trump, which Facebook’s Gleicher was pressed on at the hearing.

Also Thursday, Twitter labeled a video Trump posted as “manipulated media”. The president had tweeted a doctored video of two young children with a fake, misspelled CNN headline: Terrified todler runs from racist baby. For the first time last month, Twitter began flagging some of Trump’s tweets with a fact-check warning.

Trump, in turn, has accused social media companies of censorship and called for the government to roll back liability protections for tech platforms.

Asked about changes to this law, known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, Gleicher said the company would comply with the law if Congress made changes, but that the shield it creates is essential for Facebook to do its work.

Richard Salgado, director for law enforcement and information security at Alphabet Inc’s Google, faced accusations that the company’s lack of transparency had allowed it to avoid the heat other tech firms had drawn.

Salgado said Google provides transparency reports about advertising on the platform.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies