On Friday, many people on social media started reporting a new phenomenon on Facebook: popups warning users about extremism.
Editor-at-large for RedState Kira Davis tweeted:
"Hey has anyone had this message pop up on their FB? My friend (who is not an ideologue but hosts lots of competing chatter) got this message twice. He’s very disturbed."
There appear to be two different messages that certain Facebook users are receiving. One message asks "Are you concerned that someone you know is becoming an extremist?"
The other message comes to users by their names, and states "You may have been exposed to harmful extremist content recently," going on to state that "Violent groups try to manipulate your anger and disappointment. You can take action now to protect yourself and others.
Both of these messages have a button users can click on to "Get Support."
The Twitter thread goes on to say "whether these alerts are triggered by a 'bunch of algorithms' or a trained complex neural network remains a mystery to the public. The same applies to the ranking of content in the 'personalized' newsfeed. There is no external oversight or transparency for any of this."
The "experts" Facebook cites make generalized claims such as "Researchers have shown that peaceful movements are more successful than violent ones at bringing about social change" and "violence is against the law."
This new initiative appears to be the joint initiative of Facebook and a non-profit called Life After Hate.
So what is Life After Hate? Life After Hate states that they are "committed to helping people leave the violent far-right to connect with humanity and lead compassionate lives."
The group was awarded $400,000 in 2017 by the Obama administration, though co-founder Christian Picciolini, a former skinhead, said that those funds were rescinded by the Trump administration. The Trump administration's Department of Homeland Security later funded the group with a $750,000 in September 2020 to "disrupt domestic terrorism."
"Our vision," the write, "is a world that allows people to change and contribute to a society without violence." They go on to say that "It was these principles that guided us away from lives of hate and that drive us to help individuals exit hate groups today and to support those who have already left."
Founded in 2011, they say that their "primary goal is to interrupt violence committed in the name of ideological or religious beliefs" and they they "do this through education, interventions, academic research, and outreach."
Guidestar, which tracks giving to non-profits, states that "The organization was founded by former leaders (formers) of radicalized neo-Nazi, skinhead, and other extremist groups in North America, who today are solely committed to addressing violent far-right extremism through a lens informed by experiential knowledge, personal growth, and professional training."
The group states that they held 265 public events to further their mission in 2017, though that number dropped to 100 in 2018 and just 70 in 2019. Guidestar does not have the data yet available for 2020. The number of families served in 2019 was 76, which was the most served of any of the years for which the data was made available. They served 124 "clients" in 2019.