2 years after banning other Canadian hate groups, Facebook deletes Quebec far-right group

·3 min read
Atalante is a far-right group based in Quebec. Its Facebook page has been described as openly neo-Nazi by some experts. (Radio-Canada - image credit)
Atalante is a far-right group based in Quebec. Its Facebook page has been described as openly neo-Nazi by some experts. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

The company that owns Facebook and Instagram says it has banned Quebec far-right group Atalante from its platforms.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Meta said the decision was made in accordance with its policy on dangerous individuals and organizations.

The statement, sent by public relations firm Tact, noted the group was removed because of its affiliation with hate groups and appropriation of hate group symbols, including Nazi symbols and salutes.

"In an effort to prevent and mitigate real-world damage, we do not allow organizations or individuals who claim a violent mission or who are engaged in violence to be present on Meta technologies," said a spokesperson for Meta, who was quoted in the statement but not named.

Tact said the company has also deleted groups affiliated with Atalante on the platforms.

Atalante's page also featured displays of support for the Italian fascist group CasaPound.

Under a post endorsing "national preference," the idea of prioritizing natural-born citizens in the allocation of resources, multiple commentators wrote "les nôtres avant les autres" — "us before them."

Moreover, the group's leader was charged with criminal harassment and intimidation, in connection with a confrontation at the Montreal offices of Vice Media in 2018.

Quebec groups missing from 2019 cleanup

The move by Meta comes two and a half years after Facebook banned several other organizations and individuals it found to be engaged in promoting hate, including Faith Goldy, Kevin Goudreau, Canadian Nationalist Strikeforce, Wolves of Odin and the Soldiers of Odin (also known as Canadian Infidels), in 2019.

At the time, several people noticed similar groups based in Quebec hadn't been banned.

Experts wondered if Facebook lacked the necessary language skills needed to identify accounts circulating extremist content in Quebec.

"These groups express themselves mainly in French, and maybe [Facebook] doesn't have enough francophones, or algorithms capable of doing the job," David Morin, a University of Sherbrooke professor who holds a UNESCO chair in the prevention of radicalization, told CBC in 2019.

The company says it has now partnered with the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa to launch the "Global Network Against Hate," a five-year program to help fund research on how violent extremism based on ethnicity, race, gender and other forms of prejudice is spread and how to eradicate it. .

It also says it expanded its "Dangerous Individuals and Organizations Policy" in August 2020.

"Therefore, we are taking action against Facebook pages, groups and Instagram accounts linked to offline anarchist groups that support violent acts amid protests, U.S.-based militia organizations and QAnon," the statement said, noting Meta had deleted 3,400 pages, 19,500 groups, 25,300 Facebook profiles and 7,500 Instagram accounts earlier this year.

At least one Facebook page associated with the Quebec-based far-right group La Meute, and which has 16,000 followers, is still online.

Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada
Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada

When Facebook announced its decision to ban the English-speaking Canadian groups in 2019, CBC reported that La Meute's administrators told members it was deleting comments "not to infringe on your Freedom of Expression but to protect the La Meute Group."

Martin Geoffroy, who heads the radicalization research centre at CEGEP Édouard-Montpetit, said groups like La Meute put Facebook in the difficult position of being forced to strike a balance between what is acceptable to say online and what isn't.

"Facebook finds itself taking decisions that I think are the responsibility of government," he said.

The decision to ban hate groups is part of an international effort by Facebook to respond to long-standing concerns the site is used as a platform for spreading hate and organizing violence against minorities.