?They wanted to see my ID before they would give me my account back?
Photo: Alexander Koerner/Stringer/Getty Images
Hundreds of anti-racist skinheads are reporting that Facebook has purged their accounts for allegedly violating its community standards. This week, members of ska, reggae, and SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) communities that oppose white supremacy are accusing the platform of wrongfully targeting them. Many believe that Facebook has mistakenly conflated their subculture with neo-Nazi groups because of the term ?skinhead.?
The suspensions occurred days after Facebook removed 200 accounts connected to white supremacist groups and as Mark Zuckerberg continues to be scrutinized for his selective moderation of hate speech.
?We apologize to those affected by this issue,? a Facebook spokesperson told OneZero following the publication of our report. ?These accounts were removed in error and have been reinstated. We are reviewing what happened in this case and are taking steps to ensure it doesn?t happen again.?
It?s unclear exactly how many accounts and Pages were disabled. British journalist Garry Bushell, who is also a musician and former manager of the punk band Cockney Rejects, tweeted on Monday that hundreds of Facebook profiles in the United Kingdom were taken down. On Reddit, members of the punk subreddit complained of a ?Facebook Skinhead/Punk/Oi Mega-Ban,? theorizing that simply liking or following SHARP and other non-racist skinhead Facebook pages caused people to be locked out of their accounts. On Twitter, dozens if not hundreds of people reported the same ? from users in the U.K., United States, Canada, Brazil, Chile, and Costa Rica.
Since the subculture intersects with various music scenes, bands and musicians were affected as well. That includes Neville Staple, Jamaica-born frontman of the well-known ska band The Specials. Staple has been referred to as the ?original rude boy,? and is known for his legacy in the 2-tone ska community ? a diverse musical genre with roots in Jamaica. ?Please look into things before doing a general cull,? Staple tweeted on Tuesday. Staple regularly performs live music sets on Facebook, according to The Sun. (Facebook told OneZero on Wednesday that it has restored access to Staple?s personal account.)
Skinhead subculture emerged in 1960s working-class London, and has witnessed numerous waves and movements. There is no doubt that whiteness, racism, and fascism are associated with skinheads, and it is a fact that heinous acts of violence and murder have been committed by racists who associate with the subculture. At the same time, the Southern Poverty Law Center notes that ?skinhead style first emerged as part of a non-racist and multiracial scene? and shares its DNA with ska, dancehall, and reggae ? a heritage to which bands like The Specials are a testimony. Skinheads owe their heritage to Jamaican music traditions, and the subculture?s later adoption by white supremacists is viewed as antithetical to its origins. As such, there are two distinct skinhead subcultures alive today.
The account of Clara Byrne, singer of Brighton hard reggae band Dakka Skanks and a musician of color, was also temporarily disabled. Byrne?s most recent Facebook posts support Black Lives Matter and the uprisings against police brutality.
?The irony of banning [individuals such as Staple] on the grounds of suspected right-wing or racist promotion or support is particularly galling, and shows a complete lack of knowledge (and understanding) of British music in general, especially the multicultural 2-Tone movement,? said Guy Shankland, a British journalist at music magazine Vive Le Rock whose Facebook account was also disabled for 24 hours on Tuesday.
Facebook notified people that their accounts were disabled in a vague message, which OneZero reviewed. ?You can?t use Facebook because your account, or activity on it, doesn?t follow our Community Standards,? it said.
Several people told OneZero that Facebook asked them to confirm their identities. In a separate message, Facebook said, ?To help us check that this account belongs to you, we need a photo of your official ID.? In May, the company announced that it would begin checking the identities of accounts suspected of ?inauthentic behavior,? which encompasses a host of violations such as harassment, using a fake account, and artificially promoting content.
?They wanted to see my ID before they would give me my account back,? said James of Brighton, England. ?I refused ? I don?t want Facebook having my driving license on file ? and I consider myself apolitical within the skinhead scene, but overall I?m avidly anti-racist and so are my friends.?
However, some users report their accounts were reinstated without such verification.
Andy Laidlaw, a member of Edinburgh ska band Big Fat Panda said his account was disabled on Monday and subsequently reinstated without him providing identification. (Though he did receive Facebook?s prompt to submit a form of ID.) ?I?ve always been a fan of Facebook, but if there is no explanation I will definitely use it less,? Laidlaw said. ?I still think [the ban] is to do with the term ?skinhead.? But not all skinheads are racist. Quite the opposite for the majority.?
Some of those impacted said they were relatively unbothered by the suspensions.
?As far as I?m concerned, it was a mild inconvenience and most people I know took it in stride and were joking about it after,? said Montreal musician Karl St-Pierre, who recently began fundraising for the DESTA Black Youth Network. ?Compared to all of the events unfolding in North America and beyond right now, let?s just say having your Facebook disabled by mistake is of much less importance, y?know??
Still, the suspensions speak to the fraught moment Facebook now finds itself in. Last Friday, the company removed 200 accounts reportedly linked to the Proud Boys and American Guard, which are white supremacy groups. Facebook said these accounts intended to ambush protests against the police murder of George Floyd. Earlier in the week, Facebook also removed ?a handful? of accounts affiliated with Identity Evropa, another white supremacy group, for creating fake Antifa Twitter accounts.
The company?s content moderation system is notoriously porous, so it?s unclear whether, in an effort to scrub bad actors, it failed to distinguish the subcultures.
?I?m in skinhead Facebook groups because I share a love of Jamaican ska, reggae, and 2-tone music, however, the admin are pretty quick on stopping political conversations or anyone being hateful from what I?ve seen,? an individual whose account was removed by Facebook, and who requested to remain anonymous, told OneZero. ?I think what Facebook has done is try to get rid of racists (which I absolutely agree with), but gotten rid of good people because we like similar music.?
This person also noted that, in recent days, they had posted support for Black Lives Matter on Facebook. Black Facebook users have previously accused the platform of deleting posts that discuss racism and locking their accounts what it incorrectly deems hate speech.
On Tuesday, a private skinhead Facebook Group with nearly 11,000 members changed its name to no longer contain the term ?skinhead.? An admin of the group said in a post that the change is temporary, and is a response to Facebook?s mass suspension of accounts.
Even Facebook users who do not identify as anti-racist skinheads, but are affiliated with the music scene, say they were affected.
?It does seem that the ones who were disabled were all fans of the 2-tone/ska movement and on skinhead pages,? said Andy Davarias of Sutton, Surrey. ?I myself am not a skinhead but I do love the culture and the music.?
Civil liberties groups like Southern Poverty Law Center define ?racist skinheads? as a ?frequently violent and criminal subculture? typically imbued with neo-Nazi beliefs.? They are separate, however, from the SHARP community or anti-racist skinheads who staunchly disavow white supremacist beliefs.
?If you look deep enough, you will find Facebook sites dedicated to [neo-Nazi] bands such as Skrewdriver, and some right-wing supporters still follow the 2-Tone, punk, and Trojan [Records] bands across social media, and still attend gigs,? said Shankland. ?The ironic double standards of loving Jamaican ska while hating the very people who gave it to us still makes my skull spin.?
?We consider ourselves to have a different approach to what we term ?Boneheads? who seem to love extremist right-wing views,? said Essex DJ Pete Lacey, who is part of the SHARP community. ?Racism is abhorrent to the skinhead culture.?
Update: This story has been updated to include comments from Karl St-Pierre and Facebook. It has also been updated to reflect that Neville Staple?s Facebook page has been restored.