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Police Officers Implicated in Online Hate Groups as Facebook Profits

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According to an investigation by the nonprofit organization Reveal, hundreds of police officers are members of misogynistic, racist, anti-Muslim, or anti-government groups on Facebook. From a sheriff’s deputy in Missouri posting anti-Muslim rants to a Georgia officer who shared anti-Semitic memes, Will Carless and Michael Corey reported that “hundreds of active-duty and retired” officers “at every level of American law enforcement” are members of Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or anti-government militia groups on Facebook.

As Nick Statt wrote in an article published by The Verge in June 2019, “The unifying thread to all of these Facebook groups is that they are frequented and sometimes founded and operated by active and retired police officers, and that they actively recruit other police officers to join.”

This is so despite Facebook policies that ban content targeting individuals based on their race, ethnicity, or religion, under the social media giant’s hate speech policies. Facebook also has rules against violent incitement and groups that have been known to organize and take action offline.

However, as Alex Kotch reported for Sludge in September 2019, Facebook profits from promoting hate-groups’ content.  Based on a Sludge study of Facebook ad data, Kotch reported that, between May 2018 and September 2019, “at least 38 hate groups and hate figures, or their political campaigns, paid Facebook nearly $1.6 million to run 4,921 sponsored ads.”

According to the Sludge report, nearly $960,000 of these ad revenues could be traced to anti-immigrant groups, $542,000 was spent by anti-LGBTQ groups, and anti-Muslim groups spent nearly $70,000 on ads.

Corporate media coverage of US police involvement in hate groups has been limited. For example, an article published by the Washington Post in July 2019 addressed the topic but effectively defended Facebook by emphasizing the difficulties involved in monitor so many private groups. Also in July 2019, NBC Philadelphia reported that thirteen city police officers would be removed from the force due to violent, homophobic, or racist posts on their Facebook accounts. These 13 individuals were determined to be the “worst” of the 328 officers being investigated, according to the NBC Philadelphia report.

Sources:

Will Carless and Michael Corey, “To Protect and Slur,” Reveal, June 14, 2019, http://www.revealnews.org/article/inside-hate-groups-on-facebook-police-officers-trade-racist-memes-conspiracy-theories-and-islamophobia/.

Nick Statt, “Hundreds of Active and Retired Police Officers Are Part of Extremist Facebook Groups,” The Verge, June 14, 2019,  https://www.theverge.com/2019/6/14/18679598/facebook-hate-groups-law-enforcement-police-officers-racism-islamaphobia.

Alex Kotch, “Facebook is Making Millions Promoting Hate-Groups Content,Sludge, September 5, 2019, https://readsludge.com/2019/09/25/facebook-is-making-millions-by-promoting-hate-groups-content/.

Student Researcher: Michelle Ann Stanton (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Erica Tom (Sonoma State University)

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