Why Facebook’s leaked blacklist only had four South African organisations

Facebook says a leaked version of its Dangerous Individuals and Organisations (DIO) list was incomplete and continually changing as it evaluated new threats.

These were among the comments from Facebook’s director of counter-terrorism and dangerous organisations, Brian Fishman, in response to a recent report from The Intercept.

That was after the publication had published a snapshot of the DIO list, which included the names of hundreds of hate, terrorist, crime, and other organisations for which Facebook applies special rules when moderating discussions or content on its platforms.

The Intercept implied the list showed evidence of bias towards specific communities because most flagged DIOs were from foreign territories or predominantly consisted of minorities.

Fishman refuted this, explaining that many of the groups listed in the document were subsidiaries of media wings of larger entities.

“This is particularly true with well-established terrorist groups like Isis and al-Qaeda, for which we have documented hundreds of individual entities,” Fishman said.

In addition, Fishman said Facebook was legally bound by US law that designated certain foreign terrorist organisations, global terrorists, and other sanctioned parties.

These factors meant that an analysis of the composition of the regions and peoples in the list would be skewed.

He added the list was not shared publicly to limit legal and security risks, as well as opportunities for groups to circumvent rules.

Brian Fishman, Facebook’s head of counter-terrorism and dangerous organisations

Four organisations in South Africa were on the list, including three right-wing groups, namely the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), Ossewabrandwag, and The White Liberation Movement categorised under the “hate” category.

The other entity was the notorious prison-based crime organisation, The Numbers Gang.

The inclusion of only three hate groups in South Africa, two of which no longer exist, raised some eyebrows.

Several other active organisations espouse hatred in South Africa.

One example of this is the highly controversial Black First Land First (BLF).

Comments from BLF spokesperson Lindsay Maasdorp on the death of several white pupils when a walking bridge collapsed at a school in Vereeniging landed the organisation in deep trouble.

Maasdorp rejoiced at the incident, stating that their deaths meant future problems had been eliminated and suggested the accident was an act of God.

“Why should we frown on the ancestors’ petitions to punish the land thieves, including their offspring?” Maasdorp said.

A judge in the Equality Court found Maasdorp guilty of hate speech over this comment, but the BLF refused to condemn or apologise for it.

The IEC has also deregistered the party because it only allowed blacks to join its ranks.

Its policies and views on race should arguably qualify it as an organisation under the DIO list’s hate category, including parties guilty of “repeatedly dehumanising or advocating for harm against” people with protected characteristics.

Andile Mnxgitama, leader of Black First Land First.

MyBroadband asked Facebook why certain organisations were not included on the list.

A Facebook spokesperson explained the DIO list would “inevitably be incomplete and always will be”, given the scope and complexity of political violence, organised hatred, and scaled criminality in the world.

“However, our teams continue to regularly evaluate new groups as they come to light or as the threat environment changes,” the spokesperson said.

They explained the process used was extensive and developed with significant input from outside experts and academics.

They also said it was agnostic to region, religion, political outlook or ideology.

In addition, Facebook had a prioritisation framework to make sure it focused on groups and individuals who posed the most risk in the real world and to its platform.

“If an organisation is not designated, it either means that we have put it through this rigorous process, with extensive reviews, and assessed that it does not meet our threshold,” the spokesperson said.

“Or it means that we have not yet reviewed the organisation for possible designation.”

The spokesperson said Facebook encouraged people to report content and individuals if they believed they violated its rules.

Now read: Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook does not put profits above user safety

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Why Facebook’s leaked blacklist only had four South African organisations