On Thursday, Facebook removed ads run by Donald Trump's re-election campaign, which featured an inverted red triangle. The symbol, which has known historical ties to the brutality of the Nazi regime, elicited public concern and criticism. The CEO of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted, "The Nazis used red triangles to identify their political victims in concentration camps. Using it to attack political opponents is highly offensive. @POTUS ' campaign needs to learn its history, as ignorance is no excuse for using Nazi-related symbols."
It was, per Facebook, a clear breach of its policy on hate speech. In a statement to CNN Business, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said, "We removed these posts and ads for violating our policy against organized hate. Our policy prohibits using a banned hate group's symbol to identify political prisoners without the context that condemns or discusses the symbol."
Don't play into it — One may think that condemnation will nip the issue in the bud. But if we know one thing about the far-right media strategy, it is that free media coverage is the goal — be it through praise or criticism, it matters not. And that's unfortunately what is happening right now.
We've been here before — Dogwhistling is one of the most common tactics used by far-right media strategists. It's a dual-pronged approach that shrouds far more sinister messaging in otherwise innocuous signals, imagery, and words. Think of the OK hand sign that many white supremacists use in the open.
On the more presidential frontier, Trump is known for using insidious visuals to criticize his opponents. Consider that Hillary Clinton photo he posted on Twitter (and eventually deleted). When people pointed out that the Star of David was planted on a heap of cash, hinting at anti-Semitic tropes of greed and wealth-hoarding, Trump simply retorted, "Dishonest media is trying their absolute best to depict a star in a tweet as the Star of David rather than a sheriff's star, or plain star!" The game goes on, ad infinitum.
How the game looks — The same formula is bound to be repeated here. Facebook will be accused of carrying a bias against conservatives, which is remarkably ironic considering that Mark Zuckerberg repeatedly defended keeping Trump's incendiary post up about Black Lives Matter protesters. The far-right media will take this incident as a "gotcha" moment to reaffirm to their followers that the world is out to get the average conservative. Confirmation bias will likely nail that paranoia in. You can expect TV and print segments on the issue for a few weeks until a new controversy surfaces. Rinse and repeat.
At the end of the day, Facebook does not deserve praise for doing its job. If you run the world's biggest social network with tangible and material effects on regional issues, you have a moral obligation to crack down on rhetoric that carries the potential to hurt people. Even if that message comes from the president of the United States. It's up to journalists now to take the bull by the horns and not play into the average far-right media script. None of this is new.