History-themed Facebook groups have become a magnet for racist contentHistorians in the News
When Adam joined the Lost Edinburgh Facebook group, he simply wanted to look at historic images of the city.
“I studied history at uni and I still love it,” he says, “and Edinburgh is my favourite city. The Facebook page for Lost Edinburgh was really good, and I thought the group would show me more historic pics and information about it.”
Adam, who asked to use only his first name to avoid being removed from the group, says his Facebook news feed was immediately flooded with history-related posts mostly of the kind he was expecting. Largely 20th century images of the city, the group is dedicated to historical images and nostalgia, a common theme for Facebook history groups. These groups are popular across all major cities in the UK. And they aren't just a niche space for history enthusiasts, many have thousands of members – some tens of thousands.
Initially, Adam enjoyed the content, but he soon started to notice a pattern. There was a type of post that appeared near daily and was often left undeleted despite its content.
“I couldn’t believe people were actually posting these things,” he tells me. “Some of the people in this group are, in a bad way, absolutely fucking wild.”
The posts that Adam is talking about are deeply racist messages, images, and slang, often including a racial slur. They were being posted almost every day and getting swathes of positive attention from other group members, even if they were then deleted.
As it turns out, Lost Edinburgh is not alone. Many other history Facebook groups such as Lost Glasgow, Manchester History, and Birmingham History & Other Stuff, carry similarly problematic content. Members regularly share posts that are clearly offensive to minorities. And although moderators of the groups are in some cases swift in removing offensive content, many have become a mausoleum for racist language, commemorating deeply offensive traditions and terms that have, at least in public, mostly been lost to time.
Focused on nostalgia, and with the average group member being a middle-aged white person, there are many posts yearning for the “good old days” before the “PC [politically correct] brigade” ruined once-loved traditions. Nostalgia and history are used as a veil for sharing deeply racist language and imagery – as well as claiming that beloved locations are being run down by immigration.
A common example of the latter surfaced in the Facebook group Manchester History (20K members). A member shared an image of a deconsecrated church, which had been turned into a school for special needs children. The aim of the post was to appreciate the church’s architecture, built in the 19th century, taken in the spring light. However, the top comments on the post had nothing to do with the church, its history, or its current use. They were people fearing that the church would soon be turned into a mosque – an entirely baseless claim.
While some comments on the post were purely concerned hand-wringing over the potential of it being turned into a mosque, those comments then became a general springboard for more general anti-Muslim sentiment. One user, who didn’t even think the church would be turned into a mosque, posted “I despise them”, “they’re full of Crap [sic]”, and “I’ve seen them for what they are”.
Even more common are deeply racist ephemera and stories from earlier decades, such as racist advertising from earlier parts of the 20th century. One popular among the Lost Glasgow’s 23K members is old advertising for Barr’s Irn Bru – which previously used a cartoon of a stereotyped black boy serving a glass bottle of “iron brew” on a platter, as a mascot. The ad is regularly shared to Lost Glasgow’s Facebook group and the top comments are predominantly complaints about the cartoon being censored, lamenting that billboards of the ad are just “one more landmark that is gone”.
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