Houghton Regis Town councillor says Facebook filters at fault after racist posts uncovered on group page

One of the posts on Facebook; Inset, Cllr David Abbott
One of the posts on Facebook; Inset, Cllr David Abbott

A Houghton Regis Town councillor has blamed a social media site’s rules after presiding over a Facebook group which was littered with racist posts.

Cllr David Abbott, who sits as an independent, was an admin on the ‘Boris Johnson: Supporters’ Group’ on Facebook, which was found to be full of racist posts in an exposé by news outlet Evolve Politics last week.

Many posts had derogatory terms for Muslims and black people, with one post telling a black British soldier to “p*** off back to Africa”.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan was abused in one post and several posts were targeted at MP Naz Shah.

Another post stated that jailed ex-Labour MP Fiona Onasanya should be “put on the banana boat back home”.

Cllr Abbott has since stepped down from the page, which is also run by Wellingborough Tory councillor Martyn York and failed Newcastle-Under-Lyme council candidate Dorinda Bailey, who told one member she agreed with him after he posted that all mosques should be bombed.

Cllr Abbott told the Gazette the posts did not reflect his political views, and said Facebook’s filters were to blame.

He said: “I was a member and was invited by another admin to help out with the management of the group about a year ago.

“Whereas for pages, Facebook provides an automatic profanity filter and a moderation filter to block other offensive words... nothing like this is provided by Facebook for groups.

“In the group rules, hate speech has always been prohibited and admins would delete or mute comments, and also remove serious offenders.

“However, facebook only provides reactive monitoring - which admins did not fully appreciate.

“Their view was that as the group was set up as a public one, and not one hiding in secret - as such where anyone can see all the topics and members comments without being a member, this would provide a natural check and balance to any member thinking about posting extreme views. Sadly, this was not borne out in practice, as the media report exposed.

“So, where the admins admit they fell down was not being pro-active.

“Action was immediately taken as a result of the revelations, and a system is now in place whereby (using a list of offensive words) the group is manually searched on a regular basis and approriate action taken on any found.

“As soon as the media report was published, many hours were spend trawling though the site, removing comments and also members who were making unacceptable comments, and the administrators are pretty confident now that all of them have been removed.

“As Facebook does not provide the tools to help group admins block offensive comments on an automatic basis, it is clear that being an admin of any group is high risk due to the potential of being tainted by association should any comments be missed.

“For this reason I stood down as an administrator of the group, a fact of which you are already aware.”