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

Kimberly Bussiere and other laid-off employees of Casino Nanaimo have launched a class-action lawsuit against the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Laid-off Casino Nanaimo workers launch class-action lawsuit against corporation

Notice of civil claim filed on April 6 at Supreme Court of B.C. in Nanaimo

Al Kowalko drives Sooke School District’s first electric bus that began operation in May. The board decided on June 15 that all future buses will be electric, asking the province for more funding to support the program. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
Sooke school board agrees to make all future buses electric

Board to ask province to increase funding to cover the extra up front cost

Camper the dog was found Wednesday night by someone walking their own dog along Hollywood Crescent. She had gone missing after a violent attack on June 11. (Courtesy of VicPD)
Camper the dog found safe after fleeing violent van attack in Victoria

Camper was found on Hollywood Crescent Wednesday night

A lift on marine border restrictions by next summer would bring an economic gain to Greater Victoria through the cruise industry. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich calls for opening of marine borders by summer 2022

Council to ask feds to end restrictions in time to allow planning for next cruise ship season

In January 2019, Grade 5 students from Glenlyon Norfolk School, accompanied by Grade 11 student Anastasia Castro, gave a presentation to Oak Bay council seeking a ban on plastic bags in the district. (Black Press Media file photo)
Oak Bay set to survey businesses on single-use plastic products

Survey gathers information ahead of expected legislation on provincial, federal level

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

Queen’s counsel Paul Doroshenko, a Vancouver lawyer, has been suspended from practice for two months after admitting that his firm mismanaged $44,353.19 in client trust funds. (Acumen Law)
High-profile B.C. lawyer suspended over $44K in mismanaged client trust funds

Queen’s counsel Paul Doroshenko admits to failing to supervise his staff and find, report the shortage

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., center left, reaches over to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., joined by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus as they celebrate the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act that creates a new federal holiday to commemorate June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people after the Civil War, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 17, 2021. It’s the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Biden to sign bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday

New American stat marks the nation’s end of slavery

John Kromhoff with some of the many birthday cards he received from ‘pretty near every place in the world’ after the family of the Langley centenarian let it be known that he wasn’t expecting many cards for his 100th birthday. (Special to Langley Advance Times)
Cards from all over the world flood in for B.C. man’s 100th birthday

An online invitation by his family produced a flood of cards to mark his 100th birthday

FILE – Nurse Iciar Bercian prepares a shot at a vaccine clinic for the homeless in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, June 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
B.C. scientists to study effectiveness of COVID vaccines in people with HIV

People living with HIV often require higher doses of other vaccines

A 50-year-old woman lost control of her vehicle Tuesday, June 15, crashing through a West Vancouver school fence that surrounds playing children. (West Vancouver Police)
Driver ticketed for speeding near B.C. school crashes into playground fence days later

‘It’s an absolute miracle that nobody was injured,’ says Const. Kevin Goodmurphy

Dr. Réka Gustafson, who is British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer, speaks during a news conference in Vancouver on April 8, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. public health officials prepare to manage COVID-19 differently in the future

Flu-like? Health officials anticipate shift from pandemic to communicable disease control strategies

Most Read