Facebook, Fascists and Advertising

Giant cell phone provider Vodaphone pulled its advertising from Facebook on Thursday after their ads appeared on the group page for the ultra right-wing British National Party. Vodaphone representatives had this to say:

"We have withdrawn our advertising from Facebook and will be working with OMD to ensure there are more controls on the site. We want to continue to advertise on Facebook but only when we are comfortable that this is compatible with our other policies."

Policies that include, presumably, not associating in any way with a bunch of fascist morons.

The BNP, otherwise known as 'the inbred troglodytes with sub-average intelligence', 'the vestigial tail party' or simply 'the douchebags', is a barrel of fun. They advocate ending immigration, stopping all foreign aid, and re-instating capital punishment. And those are their 'mainstream' policies. Here's a snippet from their 'constitution':

"committed to stemming and reversing the tide of non-white immigration and to restoring, by legal changes, negotiation and consent the overwhelmingly white makeup of the British population that existed in Britain prior to 1948."

Nice. Calling the half-baked idiocy of racist jackasses a constitution is like putting pearls on swine. You can dress up a pig, but it's still a pig.

And the hits just keep on coming. In the wake of the July 7th bombings in London, the BNP ran a pamphlet showing the bombed-out remains of the Number 30 bus in Tavistock Square with the slogan "Maybe now it's time to listen to the BNP". Classy. Nothing like exploiting human tragedy for the benefit of a crass political ideology. I could go about the violence, criminality, links to Neo-Nazis, homophobia and general crapulence of the BNP, but I think you get my point.

Representatives of the BNP crawled out of the muddy holes in which they are born, breed and live out their natural lives long enough to deliver this statement:

"There is no reason at all why anyone should avoid the BNP. There's nothing wrong with the BNP. Unfortunately the media have created a bogeyman and really the fault lies with the media, who for some reason have vilified the BNP, and it has scared these people off."

Right.

This whole row illustrates one of the basic problems with the internet as an open and democratic medium, and even a fundamental contradiction at the heart of modern civil rights-based democracies. For all the information-sharing and opportunities for discussion afforded by the web, it also allows distinctly un-democratic speech (hate speech, fascist propaganda) to flourish. This kind of communication undermines the democratic potential of the internet, but any attempt to remove it compromises freedom of expression. A Catch-22, to be sure. While I throw up in my mouth a little bit every time I think of a BNP Facebook page, removal of their site would ultimately hurt FB's claims to openness.

I this context, Vodaphone's move to yank advertising is a solid one. It calls attention to the BNP's negative online presence, and refuses to legitimate it by association. And, it doesn't do anything so Draconian as shutting the page down. The only effective means to counter the BNP is through education and dismantling their fun-fair of lies and stupidity in open forums. Although I'm not sure it was their intention, the Vodaphone boycott serves both of these tactics.