In this March 29, 2018, file photo, the logo for Facebook appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York’s Times Square. Facebook was right to remove the profile of a man accused of killing four members of a Muslim family, experts say, but social media companies need to do more to fight hate on their planforms.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Richard Drew

In this March 29, 2018, file photo, the logo for Facebook appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York’s Times Square. Facebook was right to remove the profile of a man accused of killing four members of a Muslim family, experts say, but social media companies need to do more to fight hate on their planforms.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Richard Drew

Experts say removing alleged London attacker’s social media profile was right move

Facebook says its policy is to delete content that praises killers or horrific acts

People who study online hate say Facebook was right to remove the profile of a man accused of killing four members of an Ontario Muslim family, but they say social media companies need to do more to suppress dangerous content.

The decision to take down Nathaniel Veltman’s Facebook profile this week soon after he was identified as the suspect was “probably a prudent public relations move and a good public safety move,” said Natasha Tusikov, a criminology professor at York University who studies the relationship between crime, law, regulation and technology.

“The benefits of removing something like that, making sure that anyone tempted by this point of view doesn’t see that, is a good thing,” Tusikov said in a phone interview Wednesday.

In past incidents, social media profiles — on mainstream platforms as well as fringe networks aimed at 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 shields people who knew the victims from seeing those messages of support and also helps ensure that people in the alleged attacker’s social network aren’t harassed.

Facebook has confirmed it removed the suspect’s account and says its policy is to delete content that praises killers or horrific acts.

“We are horrified by the attack that took place in London, Ont., earlier this week, and our hearts go out to those impacted by it,” the company said in an emailed statement Thursday. “We do not allow hate speech on Facebook and regularly work with experts, non-profits and stakeholders to help make sure Facebook is a safe place for everyone. We’ve made significant investments in (artificial intelligence) technology to take down hate speech, and we proactively detect 97 per cent of what we remove.”

Veltman faces four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder following killings Sunday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has linked to the threat posed by online hate. Relatives have identified the dead as 46-year-old Salman Afzaal, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Salman and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal. The couple’s nine-year-old son, Fayez, was seriously wounded but is expected to recover.

Evan Balgord, the executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a non-profit organization that works to monitor and expose hate groups, said he also thinks that removing the Facebook profile was the right move.

“It’s a good thing to remove hate speech, or the profiles of alleged terrorists,” Balgord said. “We know from five years of experience, many case studies and research: de-platforming works.”

But Balgord said he thinks Facebook has been “negligent” when it comes to fighting hate speech on its platform.

“We need to see an onus on platforms to proactively remove hate,” Balgord said in a phone interview Thursday. It’s something he’d like to see done through government regulation.

He said he believes Facebook has the tools to remove hate, because it has been successful at keeping Islamic State propaganda and child pornography off its platform, but it doesn’t want to alienate a significant portion of its user base.

While Balgord supports the removal of profiles belonging to people alleged to have committed hate crimes, he said the way that’s done can impede investigations by researchers and journalists.

“If you want to find out what may have motivated such an individual, social media is the first place that you’d start an investigation like that,” he said. “It’s a way to figure out who they are, figure out who their family and friends are … figure out what kind of content they might be consuming.” Those investigations can also lead to other social media pages or accounts that express similar views.

He’d like to see companies like Facebook be required to share that sort of information with credible researchers and journalists.

Justin Ling, a freelance journalist and the author of “Missing from the Village,” a book about the investigation into Toronto serial killer Bruce McArthur, said that in that case, journalists were able to use dating profiles and a Facebook profile to link McArthurto a missing man who was later discovered to have been one of McArthur’s victims.

Ling said that social media accounts can be one of the only ways to find out about who violent extremists are and what may have motivated their acts. That’s not what police and prosecutors are focused on, he said. Their main aim is gathering evidence to secure a criminal conviction.

A big part of fighting violent extremism “is figuring out why people are radicalized, what leads them to do what they’ve done, and what groups are involved in leading them to violent action,” he said in a phone interview Thursday. “That’s not the police and prosecutors’ job, that is researchers’, academics’ and journalists’ job.”

He thinks companies like Facebook could share this information on request with journalists and researchers but chooses not to.

“Facebook doesn’t want journalists and news outlets calling attention to the fact that extremists use Facebook. That is what this is about,” he said.

—Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

RELATED: ‘I just had to try to help,’ says nurse who tried to save victims of Ontario attack

RELATED: Facebook suspends Trump for 2 years, then will reassess

CrimeHate crimes

Just Posted

An old growth cedar stands in a cut-block within the Caycuse Valley. More than 100 prominent Canadians, have signed an open letter calling for the immediate protection of all remaining old-growth forests in B.C. (Submitted)
Brian Mulroney and Greta Thunberg among 100 celebrities pushing to save B.C. old growth

List includes Indigenous leaders, scientists, authors, Oscar winners

Tim Wilkinson, who will attempt a double anvil triathlon on Vancouver Island on July 3, poses with his training partner, Shadow, who has been dragged up and down the Nanaimo Parkway many times. (Submitted)
Vancouver Island triathlete takes on ‘double anvil’ for charity

7.6km swim, 360km bike ride, and 84.4km run, all within 36 hours

From left: Thomas Kuecks, David Lane, John Ivison, Denis Berger, Rod Gray, and James Kuecks are Cabin Fever. Catch their performance on the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre website. (Ashley Foot photo)
A&E column: Music Festival winners, CVAC awards, and Cabin Fever

The latest from the Cowichan Valley arts and entertainment community

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
Cowichan Valley MLA Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

BC Green Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on Friday, February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
U.S. border restrictions to remain in place until at least July 21

Safety minister says Canada, U.S. extending restrictions on non-essential international travel

The Co-op gas station at Whiskey Creek is burning after a camper van exploded while refueling just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Exploding camper van torches Highway 4 gas station between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni

Highway traffic blocked after Whiskey Creek gas station erupts into flames

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

Himalayan Life helped finance the construction of Nepal’s Yangri Academic Centre and dormitories after a 2015 earthquake devastated the valley, killing more than 9,000 people. (Screen grab/Peter Schaeublin)
B.C. charity founder pledges to rebuild Nepalese school swept away by flash floods

Six years after an earthquake killed more than 9,000 people, Nepal faces another catastrophy

Greater father involvement in the home leads to improved childhood development and increased marital satisfaction, says expert. (Black Press Media file photo)
Vancouver Island researcher finds lack of father involvement a drag on gender equality

Working women still taking on most child and household duties in Canada: UVic professor

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

Most Read