Facebook’s Blacklist of ‘Dangerous Individuals and Organizations’ Stifles Public Debate

by Vins
Published: Updated:

Facebook’s policy on  “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations” (DIO) has become “an unaccountable system that disproportionately punishes certain communities,” Sam Biddle reported for the Intercept in October 2021. The policy, he reported, includes a “blacklist” of more than 4,000 people and groups, “including politicians, writers, charities, hospitals, hundreds of music acts, and long-dead historical figures.” The list, which Facebook employs some 350 specialists to maintain, is not public—despite calls for its release by legal scholars, activists, and Facebook’s own oversight board, the Intercept reported. The DIO policy not only bans specific individuals and groups from Facebook, in some cases it also restricts “what other Facebook users are allowed to say about the banned entities,” Biddle reported. The rules are “a serious risk to political debate and free expression,” according to Faiza Patel, the co-director of the liberty and national security program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Facebook’s DIO consists of three tiers of banned users. Tier 1, the most strictly limited group, includes alleged terror, hate, and criminal groups and their members. Facebook defines “terror” as “organizing or advocating for violence against civilians” and hate as “repeatedly dehumanizing or advocating for harm against” people with protected characteristics. The terrorist category comprises seventy percent of Tier 1 and “overwhelmingly consists of Middle Eastern and South Asian organizations and individuals,” Biddle reported. Most of the entities in the terrorism category come “directly from the U.S. government.” Facebook does not permit users to express “anything deemed to be praise or support about groups and people in this tier, even for nonviolent activities,” Biddle wrote.

Tiers 2 and 3 are less restricted. Tier 2 includes “Violent Non-State Actors,” such as rebels who engage in violence targeting governments rather than civilians. Facebook users, Biddle reported,  “can praise groups in this tier for their nonviolent actions but may not express any ‘substantive support’ for the groups themselves.” Tier 3 consists of groups that engage in hate speech but not violence, that might soon become violent, or that violate the DIO policies repeatedly. This tier includes what Facebook calls “Militarized Social Movements,” such as right-wing US anti-government militias. As Biddle noted, prohibitions on posts about predominantly white anti-government militias in the US are “far looser” than those on groups and individuals categorized as terrorists. Facebook uses terms such as “terrorist” and “militarized social movement” in ways that make them “proxies” for racial and religious identities, Biddle reported, “raising the likelihood that Facebook is placing discriminatory limitations on speech.”

In October 2021, Fox Business and Newsweek ran articles on Facebook’s DOI list, based on the Intercept’s original report. The same month the Wall Street Journal ran a similar article, though it made no mention of the Intercept’s original report. The Wall Street Journal article emphasized the perspectives of Facebook spokespersons, one of whom assured the Journal that Facebook had “confronted our toughest problems head-on.”

Source: Sam Biddle, “Revealed: Facebook’s Secret Blacklist of “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations,” The Intercept, October 12, 2021.

Student Researcher: Jensen Giesick (San Francisco State University)

Faculty Evaluators: Amber Yang and Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)