The far-right political group Britain First has seen numerous setbacks in recent months. These have included court cases, legal fees, and potential prison time for key players. The party’s leader, Paul Golding, has now stepped down, allowing his deputy Jayda Fransen to “temporarily assume leadership”.
Like Britain’s other far-right groups, Britain First appears to be on the verge of collapse. But unlike its rivals, the party has built a following of 1.5 million people on Facebook. And these followers are unlikely to go away when the people at the top do.
In August 2016, Britain First was banned from entering all mosques across England and Wales. This followed the group protesting outside and “invading” several mosques – which the group filmed. The party’s deputy leader Jayda Fransen was convicted of religiously aggravated harassment. Its leader Paul Golding, meanwhile, was served with a summons for allegedly breaching a High Court injunction during Fransen’s trial. He potentially faces six months in prison if found guilty.
For the first time in our five-year history, I have felt it necessary to step back from the tasks of frontline leadership in order to address several important personal family issues which I cannot ignore and which are very, very important to me.
I need to hand over the reins of leadership to our deputy leader Jayda Fransen for a period of six months in order to give these family issues my full attention.
Britain First as a political party
Britain First has not been effective as a political party. Golding ran an unsuccessful campaign to be Mayor of London. Despite his party’s large Facebook following, he received only 1.2% of the vote. Anti-fascist advocacy group Hope not Hate estimated that, in February 2016, Britain First still only had 800-1,000 actual members. It also stated:
Britain First was engulfed in utter confusion as to what it actually stood for. Is it a Counter-Jihadist street movement like the EDL or is it an anti-immigration and anti-immigrant party like the BNP? Attempts to intertwine both are confusing for everyone, in particular for the group’s active members.
2015 was an extraordinary year of over-exposure in the media and yet, as with the year before, the party reaped few rewards. In part, this is down to the temperamental nature of its leadership and an inability to commit to serious political work.
Britain First as a Facebook page
Britain First currently has more than 1.5 million followers on Facebook – around triple the following of either the Labour Party or the Conservative Party. Millions of people will potentially see any image, video, or story shared by the group. And it uses its considerable platform to spread misinformation, lies and propaganda.
As a result, groups like Exposing Britain First have been set up to monitor its posts. This infographic explains how Britain First has used non-representative and highly emotive posts to increase its following.
Britain First openly posted the video which saw its deputy leader charged for religiously aggravated harassment. And Facebook has been notoriously slow in tackling such hate speech. But the comments section of most posts makes it clear that the group is sounding dog-whistle racism to a receptive audience.
If Britain First’s leadership folds, whoever takes over its Facebook group could have instant access to a potential audience of millions. And the cynical manner in which it has operated in the past does little to suggest it would be against selling it on.
Whatever happens to the Britain First page, as long as Facebook does not take tackling hate speech seriously, this corrosive and opportunistic propaganda is unlikely to disappear.
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