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

Terry Mazzei next to a truck after it was struck by lightning, with him inside, on Wednesday afternoon, June 9. He walked away from the incident without injury and the truck sustained only mild damage; a blown front tire and newly broken gas gauge. (Wendy Mazzei photo)
Nanoose Bay man walks away unscathed after lightning strike

VIDEO: ‘We like to think that his dad was watching over him’

Douglas Holmes, current Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District chief administrative officer, is set to take on that position at the Regional District of Nanaimo come late August. (Submitted photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo’s next CAO keen to work on building partnerships

Douglas Holmes to take over top administrator role with RDN this summer

This young fledgling white raven was spotted in the Coombs area on May 16. (Mike Yip photo)
Expert says 2 sets of parents producing rare white ravens in mid-Island area

One of the iconic birds is currently recovering at wildlife centre after being rescued

Flowers planted along Highway 19 in downtown Parksville. (Submitted photo)
City of Parksville plants more than 15,000 annual bedding plants

Residents encouraged to take flower photos and post to social media

New COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island by local health area for the week of May 30-June 5. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control image)
COVID-19 cases drop again almost everywhere on Vancouver Island

Nanaimo had four new cases last week, down from 22 the week before

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Most Read