Tamsin McMahon reports on Facebook’s recent ban on postings by extremist groups that promote hate, and on related concerns expressed by politicians in the United States, Britain and Europe

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, current events, media studies

Key Question(s) to Explore:

  • What types of content is Facebook banning, and why?

New Terminology:

White nationalism, white supremacy, Zionism

Materials Needed:

Globe article

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

As most of your students will know, social media are rife with controversial claims and postings that have no basis in fact, and many are designed to elicit negative feelings about targeted individuals and groups. Recently, Facebook acted to ban certain types of posts that they determined promoted hatred and white nationalism/supremacy.

As social media users and concerned citizens, students can benefit from a lesson that focuses on Facebook’s ban and the reasons for it. They will work with a partner on a reading/comprehension exercise in which they critically examine a series of excerpts from the attached article.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Introduce this activity by finding out: a) how many students are active on Facebook; b) whether they have encountered content they thought should be banned, and, c) whether they agree with Facebook banning content.

Have students read the article individually, then have them work in pairs to complete the following. Rather than using the Internet for information, they are to provide their own opinions and/or guess at answers; these can be fact-checked during or following a general class discussion.

Task Sheet

For each of these excerpts from the article, in italics, respond to the questions or prompts that follow.

Six months ahead of the federal election, the social media giant said on Monday it had banned several users for supporting white nationalism…

  • What is the significance of including a reference to the (Canadian) federal election in this statement?
  • How do you understand the term “white nationalism?”
  • Do you identify yourself as white or non-white? Do you think this affects your understanding of white nationalism?

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould warned that social media companies are not doing enough to protect Canadian democracy ahead of October’s federal election and could face new regulations.

  • How might activities on social media be a threat to Canadian democracy?
  • Can you describe any instances where social media in Canada or another country were criticized for interfering with an election?

In Canada, Facebook said it had banned the accounts for violating its policies against dangerous individuals and groups, which includes people who have been convicted of a hate crime, advocated violence toward identifiable groups such as visible or religious minorities, or organized an event with known hate groups.

  • From your experience in social media, can you cite any examples of this kind of activity?
  • Do you think this type of ban will be effective? Why or why not?
  • If your page has been banned by Facebook, there is no appeal. Do you agree with this policy?

“We’ve seen hate speech fuel the attack against Pittsburgh, at the synagogue, we’ve seen more recently in Christchurch, worshipers gunned down,” [Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen] said. “This is real and it has consequences.”

  • Why are the three attacks listed together, above? What do they have in common?
  • We don’t see the words “terrorism” or “terrorist” used in this excerpt. What kinds of attacks usually involve these words? Should they apply here?

[British] Prime Minister Theresa May, called for a regulator who could issue fines, shut down websites and make executives of social media firms personally liable for dangerous content on their platforms.

  • How can content on social media be dangerous? Imagine an example.
  • Should Facebook be held liable for hosting dangerous content? If so, how might this change Facebook activity?

…[Facebook] said on Monday it had banned several users for supporting white nationalism, including Faith Goldy, [who responded] “I’ve committed no crime. I’m not part of any sort of hate group. And to label a young woman who makes YouTube videos from her kitchen table…a ‘dangerous individual’ is preposterous and laughable.”

  • Do you think it’s possible to carry out dangerous activity by making YouTube videos from a kitchen table? Why does it matter, if it does, where videos are made? How can a video be dangerous?
  • Did removing the phrase, “most of which just cite things like census data,” from the space between “table,” and “a ‘dangerous,” above, change how you understood Ms. Goldy’s excerpt and if so, in what way? Can you imagine a way that census data can be used to support white nationalism or white supremacy?

Google [which owns YouTube] pointed to a four-minute video Ms. Goldy posted on YouTube that compared white Europeans to endangered animals and warned of “population replacement” by non-white immigrants in the United States.

  • Do you think this type of content can be understood as promoting hatred, or white supremacist arguments? Explain.

Finally, what is your opinion on the banning issue? Do you think it’s necessary? Do you think bans will work—that people won’t find ways to get around the ban? Do you think social media can be an anti-democratic force in society? Explain.

When students have finished, discuss their work to see if there is a consensus on any of the questions. If you have students who identify as non-white, consider comparing their responses to the questions on white supremacy to those of students who identify as white. As a final exercise for a diverse class, ask the question, “When people first meet you, do they ask where you’re from?” Note differences between students who identify as white and those who don’t, and ask how they feel about being asked that question.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Students discuss their work as a group.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students can describe the kind of content Facebook is banning and explain its rationale.

Confirming Activity: