The leader and deputy leader of Britain First, an anti-Muslim extremist group, have been sent to prison for hate crimes. The leader of the group, Paul Golding, was convicted of one count of religiously aggravated harassment and sentenced to eighteen weeks, and the deputy leader, Jayda Fransen, was convicted of three counts of religiously aggravated harassment and sentenced to thirty-six weeks[1].

They were convicted after videos they posted online showed their harassment of Muslims in May 2017. The chief crown prosecutor, Jaswant K. Narwal, said, “These defendants were not merely exercising their right to free speech but were instead aiming religiously aggravated abuse at innocent members of the public”[2].

In response to their sentencing, Fransen and Golding accused the government of criminalizing their opinions. Britain First responded by posting a picture of the two on Facebook with the words, “Their only crime is loyalty”[3]. They have since set up a petition calling for Fransen and Golding to be released on their website, which states, “The authorities have sent Britain First leaders Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen to prison for ‘harassing’ a gang of convicted migrant child rapists!”[4]

The two have been arrested multiple times and Fransen was once fined, and Golding sentenced to eight weeks in jail, for violating a court order barring Golding from entering any mosque[5].

In November 2017, Britain First attracted international attention when Trump tweeted links to anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant videos made by the group, some of which were misleading. In response, British politicians, including the Prime Minister, rebuked Trump. Politicians from multiple other countries and from across the ideological spectrum, and human rights groups, also criticised Trump[6].

Facebook announced on 14th March that it had banned the group from its platform, saying it has “repeatedly posted content designed to incite animosity and hatred against minority groups … We are an open platform for all ideas and political speech goes to the heart of free expression. But political views can and should be expressed without hate. People can express robust and controversial opinions without needing to denigrate others on the basis of who they are”[7].

Britain First’s Facebook page, which had more than 2 million likes, and the pages of Golding and Fransen, have all been removed. The group will not be able to set up any other pages in the future[8].

Facebook added, “We have community standards that clearly state this sort of speech is not acceptable on Facebook and, when we become aware of it, we remove it as quickly as we can … Political parties, like individuals and all other organisations on Facebook, must abide by these standards and where a page or person repeatedly breaks our community standards we remove them”[9].

Social media and tech firms have recently been under pressure to report and remove extremist content[10]. On 13th March, the Home Affairs Committee questioned Google and YouTube on the continuing availability of content related to National Action on their websites, despite Google having promised that this content would be removed. National Action is a banned organisation in the UK[11].

The anti-fascist organisation, Hope Not Hate, released a report at the beginning of this month suggesting that Britain First had the “second most liked Facebook page in the politics and society category in the UK – after the royal family”[12].

Matthew Collins, head of research at Hope Not Hate, said that there could be reason to think the group may break apart if Facebook also takes down the group’s mirror and back-up sites[13].

TellMAMA, an Islamophobia watch group, said it welcomes the decision by Facebook[14].

The Mayor of London, who has recently launched his campaign to combat hate speech and called on social media firms to also take steps to combat it, said, “Britain First is a vile and hate-fuelled group whose sole purpose is to sow division. Their sick intentions to incite hatred within our society via social media are reprehensible, and Facebook’s decision to remove their content is welcome”[15].

[1] Pérez-Peña, 2018.

[2] Pérez-Peña, 2018.

[3] Pérez-Peña, 2018.

[4] Britain First, no date.

[5] Pérez-Peña, 2018.

[6] Pérez-Peña, 2018.

[7] Hern and Rawlinson, 2018.

[8] Hern and Rawlinson, 2018.

[9] Hern and Rawlinson, 2018.

[10] Hern and Rawlinson, 2018.

[11] www.parliament.uk, 2018.

[12] Hern and Rawlinson, 2018.

[13] Hern and Rawlinson, 2018.

[14] TellMAMAUK, 2018.

[15] Hern and Rawlinson, 2018.

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Sources

Britain First. (no date) ‘PETITION: FREE THE BRITAIN FIRST LEADERS!’ [online] https://www.britainfirst.org/free_paul-jayda. [Accessed 15 March 2018].

Hern, A. and Rawlinson, K. (2018) ‘Facebook bans Britain First and its leaders’. [online] 14 March. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/14/facebook-bans-britain-first-and-its-leaders. [Accessed 15 March 2018].

Pérez-Peña, R. (2018) ‘Anti-Muslim Extremists Retweeted by Trump Are Convicted of Hate Crimes’. [online] 8 March. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/08/world/europe/britain-first-hate-crime-uk.html. [Accessed 15 March 2018].

TellMAMAUK. (2018) Tweet. [online] 14 March. https://twitter.com/TellMamaUK/status/973910082005106688. [Accessed 15 March 2018].

www.parliament.uk. (2018) ‘Google questioned on failure to remove National Action content’. [online] 13 March. http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/home-affairs-committee/news-parliament-2017/hate-crime-google-evidence-17-19/. [Accessed 15 March 2018].