Tommy Robinson Banned from Facebook, Instagram

On February 26 2019, British professional provocateur and far-right activist Tommy Robinson (née Steven Yaxley-Lennon) — perhaps best known for his involvement with disinformation purveyors such as political party (and Brexit architects) UKIP and the anti-Islam English Defence League — was widely rumored to have been banned from social media sites Facebook and Instagram.

News organizations like The Sun and the Independent covered claims Robinson had been permanently removed from both platforms; the Guardian reported that the news followed a prior ban from Twitter:

Tommy Robinson, the far-right founder of the English Defence League, has been permanently banned from Facebook and Instagram for repeatedly breaking the sites’ policies on hate speech, Facebook said.

The company said Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, broke rules that ban public calls for violence against people based on protected characteristics; rules that ban supporting or appearing with organised hate groups; and policies that prevent people from using the site to bully others.

The decision to ban Robinson from the social media site could threaten his ability to reach large audiences.

Robinson is already banned from Twitter and the decision to cut him off from Instagram and Facebook will leave him reliant on YouTube as the only major online platform to provide him with a presence.

The latter outlet linked to an official FB Newsroom post, where in an unusual move, Facebook issued a statement titled “Removing Tommy Robinson’s Page and Profile for Violating Our Community Standards.” In the post, Facebook briefly reviewed their Community Standards and added:

Tommy Robinson’s Facebook Page has repeatedly broken these standards, posting material that uses dehumanizing language and calls for violence targeted at Muslims. He has also behaved in ways that violate our policies around organized hate. As a result, in accordance with our policies, we have removed Tommy Robinson’s official Facebook Page and Instagram profile. This is not a decision we take lightly, but individuals and organizations that attack others on the basis of who they are have no place on Facebook or Instagram.

A January 2 2019 page (“Did Muslim Men Attack a UK Serviceman on New Year’s Eve? addressed claims spread by Robinson:

On January 1, 2019, British far-right activist Tommy Robinson (née Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennonshared a post with photographs of an injured man, claiming that fifteen Muslim men had seriously assaulted a British serviceman one day prior in Batley[.]

In that fact check, we noted that Robinson at the time was known for spreading white nationalist, alarmist propaganda using Facebook and other platforms:

[An] incident went unremarked upon by Robinson, who founded the English Defence League in 2009, an anti-Muslim group that was notorious for spreading racist propaganda for years, including a documented history of opportunistically blaming traffic accidents on “jihadi attacks” without evidence[.]

The Independent included a statement from the head of UK anti-extremism group Hope Not Hate, which referenced Robinson’s use of pseudonyms as well as the precipitates for his ban:

Nick Lowles, chief executive of Hope not Hate, said: “Stephen Lennon is a far-right thug who uses his platform to bully, abuse and stir up division, monetising his hatred to earn huge sums while hiding behind a fake free speech mantle.

“Lennon has a long record of abuse towards minorities such as Muslims, so we welcome today’s decision as well as Facebook’s continued actions in cleaning up their platform.”

Robinson was banned by Twitter in March 2018, for reasons unspecified by that platform:

Twitter declined to discuss what, specifically, had precipitated the ban and Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, said he had been told it was for posting “Islam promotes killing people.”

The exclusion will be a blow to Robinson, who has recently sought to change his image from far-right street agitator to gonzo journalist. However, he remains active on other platforms, including Facebook and YouTube.

“Lennon was one of the main drivers of anti-Muslim sentiment in this country. He masqueraded as a journalist, an author and an expert on Islam and he is none of these things,” said Matt Collins, head researcher at the anti-fascist organisation Hope Not Hate.

“His whole reason for being [on Twitter] was to build a build a campaign of falsities against Muslims in the UK.”

Collins denied a suggestion that the ban would make Robinson stronger in his supporters’ eyes. “It is like when people said banning National Action would just make them stronger,” he said, referring to the proscribed far-right terrorist organisation.

“If people want to find and hear Tommy Robinson, they will find him. We have seen mainstream society fight back against this. Lennon was a driver of anti-Muslim sentiment and civilised society didn’t require him to be there doing it.”

In their February 26 2019 statement about Tommy Robinson, Facebook said that its rules also make clear that people or groups that are engaged in “organized hate” are not allowed on the platform, regardless of the ideology they claim to represent.