Consultants say eradicating alleged London attacker’s social media profile was proper transfer
People studying online hatred say Facebook was right to remove the profile of a man accused of killing four members of a Muslim family in Ontario, but they say social media companies need to do more to suppress dangerous content.
The decision to delete Nathaniel Veltman’s Facebook profile this week shortly after he was identified as a suspect was “probably a prudent public relations move and a good public safety move,” said Natasha Tusikov, professor of criminology from York University showing the relationship between crime, law, regulation and technology.
“The benefits of removing something like this to make sure anyone who is tempted from this point of view doesn’t see it is a good thing,” Tusikov said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
In previous incidents, social media profiles – on mainstream platforms as well as fringe networks targeting the far right – have attracted supporters of the alleged killers, said Tusikov, a former strategic criminal intelligence analyst with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Removing the alleged killer’s social media profile will protect people who knew the victims from seeing these messages of support and will also help ensure that people on the alleged attacker’s social network are not harassed.
Facebook has confirmed that the suspect’s account has been removed and says its policy is to delete content praising killers or horrific deeds.
“We are appalled by the attack that took place in London, Ontario earlier this week, and our hearts go out to those affected,” the company said in an email statement on Thursday. “We don’t allow hate speech on Facebook and we regularly work with experts, nonprofits and stakeholders to make sure Facebook is a safe place for everyone. We have made significant investments in (artificial intelligence) technology to combat hate speech and are proactively detecting 97 percent of what we are removing. “
Veltman faces four first-degree murder cases and one attempted murder case following Sunday murders that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has linked to the threat of online hatred. Relatives have identified 46-year-old Salman Afzaal, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Salman and their 74-year-old grandmother Talat Afzaal. The couple’s nine-year-old son, Fayez, was seriously injured but is said to be recovering.
Evan Balgord, the executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a nonprofit that monitors and exposes hate groups, said he also thinks removing the Facebook profile is the right step.
“It is good to remove hate speech or the profiles of suspected terrorists,” said Balgord. “We know from five years of experience, many case studies and research: Deplatforming works.”
But Balgord said he believed Facebook was “negligent” when it came to combating hate speech on its platform.
“We must see an obligation on platforms to proactively eliminate hatred,” said Balgord on Thursday in a telephone interview. It’s something he would have liked to have achieved through government regulation.
He said he believes Facebook has the tools to eradicate hatred because it has been successful in keeping Islamic State propaganda and child pornography off its platform, but it does not want to alienate a significant portion of its user base.
While Balgord has been helping to remove profiles of people who allegedly have committed hate crimes, he said it may hinder investigations by researchers and journalists.
“If you want to find out what might have motivated such a person, social media is the first place you would start such an investigation,” he said. “It’s a way to find out who they are, to find out who their family and friends are … to find out what kind of content they might be consuming.” These investigations may lead to other social media pages or accounts that are similar Expressing views.
He wants companies like Facebook to be required to share this type of information with credible researchers and journalists.
Justin Ling, a freelance journalist and author of Missing from the Village, a book about the investigation into Toronto serial killer Bruce McArthur, said journalists in the case could use dating profiles and a Facebook profile to help McArthurto a . link missing man who was later discovered as one of McArthur’s victims.
Ling said social media accounts can be one of the few ways to find out who violent extremists are and what might have motivated their actions. That’s not what the police and prosecutors focus on, he said. Their main goal is to gather evidence in order to achieve a criminal conviction.
A big part of combating violent extremism “is finding out why people are radicalized, what drives them to do what they have done, and which groups lead them to violent acts,” he said in a telephone interview on Thursday . “This is not the job of the police and the public prosecutor, it’s the job of researchers, scientists and journalists.”
He believes companies like Facebook could share this information with journalists and researchers upon request, but he refrains from doing so.
“Facebook doesn’t want journalists and news agencies to point out that extremists are using Facebook. That’s what this is about, ”he said.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 10, 2021.
This story was produced with financial support from Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.