Facebook hate groups erode confidence in community standards

Facebook community standards requires priority!

According to Facebook community standards, safety is Facebook’s top priority. [0] In practice however enforcing community standards on hate speech and credible threats of violence on Facebook falls well below any reasonable benchmark for priority action.

If you have ever tried to persuade Facebook administrators to remove a page or group that obviously violates contractual standards this company has committed itself to, you’ll know the frustration of receiving the following automated response “Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. We reviewed the group you reported for containing credible threat of violence and found it doesn’t violate our community standard on credible threat of violence.” [1]

If you happen to notice the “Give Feedback” button at the end of the dismissal, you do have the option of disagreeing with the automated dismissal by providing comment on why you believe the decision to dismiss your complaint was wrong. You’d be forgiven for the naive rush of accomplishment after sending your feedback, because you’ll get nothing in return for exercising your civic duty. Until an actual human administrator bothers to investigate why hundreds of people are complaining about the same group or page, that automated message will haunt you every day you lodge a new complaint. And while you fret and fume, the hate groups and pages continue to organize and promote acts of real-world violence against their target scapegoats.

FACEBOOK hate speech group

Since April 2013 members of one particular Facebook page called ‘Witches must die by fire’ and an associated group called ‘Those Witches Nd Wizzads Must Die By Fire By Force’ (sic) have focused their hatred against Witches.

A vocal proponent of one of these groups, Pstr. Anthony Matildah from Serowe, Botswana, encourages readers to set fire to Witches. “I decree as a mandate of Heaven all witches and wizzads must die by fire by force and evry gang of satan’s agents standing in the gap of witches trying to speak for them may the Holy ghost thunder scatter that gang apart and may they neve gather again in the name of Jesus Christ.” (sic) [2] ‘Witches must die by fire’ boldly announces “The time has come to burn every witch.” [3]

Despite growing protest among Witches and other Pagans on Facebook to the content of these hate groups, Facebook keeps reminding those who lodge complaints that the group and page “doesn’t violate our community standard on credible threat of violence”. If inciting others to burn witches does not constitute “credible threat of violence”, what does? I asked some of the protesters to share their thoughts on why they thought these groups did not belong on Facebook, and to comment on what they thought of Facebook’s automated response to complaints of a credible threat to violence.

South African Witch Jared Van Wyk responded by saying “The two Facebook groups ‘Those Witches Nd Wizzads Must Die By Fire By Force’ and ‘Witches must die by fire’ are both insulting and threatening. While there are those removed from troubles such as these due to geographical location and ignorance, chosen or imposed, there are those who are quite literally in the center of it all. Aside from the blatant insult, working and living surrounded by those people influenced by groups and pages such as these can present a very real threat to the safety of myself and my loved ones. It amounts to hate speech in the most honest meaning of the term. Facebook’s unwillingness to do anything about this is a direct violation of their contractual user agreement.”

Another South African Witch who started a Facebook protest event [4] against these groups, Sandy Jacobs said “They don’t belong on Facebook due to the threats they make and the hate propaganda they spew. It is an utter disgrace that Facebook would allow groups like this! Facebook’s complaints procedure is a joke!”

Nigeria: accused witch burned to death

Annette Raftery reminded readers of my Facebook profile that “In 2011, a South African court banned Dubulu iBhunu (Shoot the Boer), a derogatory song degrading Afrikaners, on the basis that it violated a South African law prohibiting speech that demonstrates a clear intention to be hurtful, to incite harm, or to promote hatred.” In South Africa, hate speech (along with incitement to violence and propaganda for war) is specifically excluded from protection of free speech in the Constitution. The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, 2000 contains the following clause: No person may publish, propagate, advocate or communicate words based on one or more of the prohibited grounds, against any person, that could reasonably be construed to demonstrate a clear intention to a. be hurtful; b. be harmful or to incite harm; c. promote or propagate hatred.

Although South African Witches are not the only ones who have publicly objected to the hate speech against Witches on Facebook, they are more than likely to see the first result of increased public advocacy for violence against Witches in southern Africa, where most of the supporters of these hate groups also live and work.

An American Witch who wished to be identified simply as Emrys responded by saying “I think the page is hateful and rude and has no place on Facebook. It makes Pagans and Witches all over the world look like we are evil people when the major group of us are peaceful people with families and friends of our own and with our own homes, jobs and dreams as well. It is a vile page. I think Facebook’s complaints policies need to be reworked and redefined so that groups that promote acts of burning witches to death should be taken down and banned. I think instead of the automated answer most get when they report a page, comment or picture, they should get a human to look at the media being complained about and make a call from that.”

Claire Hughes, a Glasgow Witch, reiterated general consensus among Witches, Wiccans and Pagans on Facebook from several countries. “These groups do not belong on Facebook, or anywhere for that matter, as they promote hate and violence against a particular faith. If statements about killing members of a mainstream religion were made they would be removed immediately. The complaints procedure on Facebook is basic and ineffective. Upon reporting these groups I received a computer generated message telling me that the group would not be removed. There is a real need for a human liason to evaluate matters concerning discrimination on a case by case basis.”

Two change.org petitions have been started against Facebook’s policy of dismissal of complaints. Morgana Skye started a petition called Facebook: Stop ignoring the promotion of hate speech and violence against Pagans.  “It is important for us to fight for our right to religious freedom, and no group should be singled out as a target of hate speech and violence.”  Kevin Sidoti’s petition is called Facebook: Take off the Hateful page “Witches must die by Fire” off FB. [5]

Facebook says “We’ve built industry leading technical and human systems to encourage people using Facebook to report violations of our terms and developed sophisticated tools to help our teams evaluate the reports we receive and make or escalate the difficult decisions about whether reported content is controversial, harmful or constitutes hate speech. As a result, we believe we are able to remove the vast majority of content that violates our standards, even as we scale those systems to cover our more than 1 billion users, and even as we seek to protect users from those who seek to circumvent our guidelines by reposting content that has been taken down time and time again.” [6] Obviously Facebook aught to replace its automated indifference to hate speech with an empathetic and reactive human being in order to give real meaning to the words ‘top priority’.

Less technical systems and more one on one human interaction might be better than Facebook’s current industry standard automated sophistication that completely avoids real time intervention when it is needed most – effectively an automated denial of service essentially! Throughout Africa women, men and children frequently become targets for witch-hunters. [7] Incitement to burn Witches anywhere in Africa must be taken deadly seriously and response to such credible threats of violence against Witches on Facebook aught to be immediate and decisive.

“The idea that vulnerable persons and groups should have to tolerate hate speech against them in the name of freedom of expression — often over decades or a lifetime — is offensive. We’re talking about peoples’ lives after all — this is not just a philosophical debate. The right to free speech is a fundamental value, but it should not be allowed to outweigh the basic human rights of other people, especially their right to life.” Joyce Arthur – The Limits of Free Speech [8]


[0] Facebook Community Standards

Safety is Facebook’s top priority. We remove content and may escalate to law enforcement when we perceive a genuine risk of physical harm, or a direct threat to public safety. You may not credibly threaten others, or organize acts of real-world violence. Organizations with a record of terrorist or violent criminal activity are not allowed to maintain a presence on our site. We also prohibit promoting, planning or celebrating any of your actions if they have, or could, result in financial harm to others, including theft and vandalism.

Facebook does not permit hate speech, but distinguishes between serious and humorous speech. While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, we do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.

[1] Facebook automated response to any complaint lodged.

[2] Pstr Anthony Matildah

[3] Witches must die by fire

[4] Petition Event

[5] Petitions

[6] Controversial, Harmful and Hateful Speech on Facebook (May 28, 2013)

[7] Victims of witch-hunts in South Africa 2000 to 2013

[8] Joyce Arthur – The Limits of Free Speech


You may also like...

3 Responses

  1. Aug 20, 2013

    […] a call to involve Interpol, and an overview of the issue from South African Pagan Damon Leff, who notes that rhetoric about burning witches shouldn’t be taken lightly. Quote: “Throughout Africa women, men and children frequently become targets for […]

  2. Aug 20, 2013

    […] a call to involve Interpol, and an overview of the issue from South African Pagan Damon Leff, who notes that rhetoric about burning witches shouldn’t be taken lightly.  Quote: “Throughout Africa women, men and children frequently …read […]

  3. Aug 24, 2013

    […] on http://www.penton.co.za Share this:TwitterFacebookLinkedInEmailTumblrStumbleUponGoogle +1Like this:Like Loading… By […]

Leave a Reply