Facebook pulls down St Kilda Beach rally page due to 'hate speech'
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Facebook pulls down St Kilda Beach rally page due to 'hate speech'

Facebook has pulled down an event page for the St Kilda Beach rally after it found posts with hate speech amid debate about whether the meeting organised by far-right extremists Neil Erikson and Blair Cottrell should be described by media as a “Nazi” event.

The Saturday rally on one of Melbourne’s most popular beaches, which has been condemned by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, was heavily advertised through social media.

The Facebook event for the "political meeting"- organised by Mr Erikson, and his Nationalist Uprising and Cooks Convicts pages - was pulled down on Sunday night.

Around 1900 people had shown interest in the event, with about 500 saying they would attend – though around 100 reportedly showed up.

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The social media behemoth's global teams have watched pages, groups, events and other accounts related to the St Kilda event over the weekend, including pages linked to anti-fascist groups, and found multiple content violations on the event page after the rally ended.

Some other related pages were shut down over the weekend for breaching content rules, with Facebook's policies defining hate speech as direct attacks like dehumanising speech, statements of inferiority or calls for exclusion, over characteristics such as race and ethnicity.

A protester issues a Nazi salute at Saturday's St Kilda rally.

A protester issues a Nazi salute at Saturday's St Kilda rally.Credit:Darrian Traynor

Well placed sources said some of the posts removed from other accounts involved suggesting weapons should be brought to the rally.

In 2017, Mr Cottrell posted on YouTube claiming that Facebook had banned him in a "censorship attack" linked to a court case in that year.

He and Mr Erikson were fined by the court over a video he had filmed in 2015 beheading a mannequin in Bendigo to protest the building of a mosque.

He complained on Monday morning in a tweet that while he was "already banned from Facebook" he had recently been using his father's account until it was also deleted after he uploaded a speech.

"Not suspended, completely deleted. No reason given,” he said.

He recently said that some of his Instagram posts about the rally had been removed as well.

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Facebook and other social media platforms have been scrutinised over the past 18 months over how they manage to keep hate speech and dangerous content off their websites while allowing freedom of expression.

The Australian consumer watchdog and global regulators have been looking closely at how social media's algorithms can play a role in creating filter bubbles or echo chambers and the spread of unreliable information.

The United Patriots Front page still appears to be live on Facebook, as is Mr Erikson’s personal page where he recently posted complaining about “left wing media” and the use of the term "Nazi" for the right.

The St Kilda Beach rally also had the Australian Broadcasting Corporation facing challenges over the weekend, after its coverage of the protest attracted criticism for using the terms “far-right demonstrators” and “far-right activists” instead of "Nazis".

At the event, attendees were seen showing Nazi salutes and in one case holding a helmet with Nazi insignia. Some of the ABC’s online coverage later on the weekend said there “appeared to be neo-Nazis present”.

ABC editorial director Alan Sunderland defended the public broadcaster’s choice of wording on Twitter, saying he “personally” wouldn’t call them Nazis.

“That implies a formality and consistency of belief that is not warranted by the facts. I’d call them people making Nazi salutes. Accuracy matters,” he said.

He said while he was not at the rally “based on the coverage I didn’t see a single person I would call a 'Nazi' with a capital “N”.

"I saw a lot of wannabe nazis, some far-right bigots and plenty more without the brains and understanding to properly enunciate any kind of ideology”.

An ABC spokeswoman said that the broadcaster had “not received any complaints to date” about references to far-right activists.

“Several complaints have been received about the ABC’s description of anti-racism protesters as “far-left”, which they say is inaccurate,” she said.

In some online articles on Sunday, the public broadcaster described the counter-protesters as “anti-fascist”.

Jennifer Duke is a media and telecommunications journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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