Helsinki police department chief Lasse Aapio said Monday that well-known internet sleuth Marko Forss could not continue in his position as head of a task force investigating online hate speech in Finland. Aapio said that the move would ensure that the group, which began operating in March, could continue its work.
"The early phase of the hate speech team has proceeded well and because of that, we want to ensure that the group remains vibrant and functional," Aapio told Yle.
Forss' position as head of the group came into the spotlight, when it emerged on Sunday that he had been the moderator of a closed Facebook group in which some police officers had been engaging in discussions using racist slurs.
Forss steps down from police Facebook group
Last weekend the digital publication Long Play, which specialises in investigative journalism, reported that the Facebook group had discussed issues such as a botched suicide attempt by an asylum seeker at the Helsinki Railway Station, and had used derisive remarks.
Other threads also made crude jokes about Tanzanian-Finnish rapper James Nikander, also known as Musta Barbaari, while another proposed identifying arm bands for foreigners.
Forss was one of the moderators of the group but separated himself from the group in April, citing his responsibilities as the head of the anti-hate speech task force. Some of the 2,800-member Facebook group were retired while others were former police officers who had moved on to other responsibilities.
Long Play quoted Forss as saying that one of the discussions in the closed group had been handed over to prosecutors for a probe. At the time he noted that police also have freedom of speech, especially since members of the Facebook group were commenting in their free time.
Police top brass want crackdown on social media use
Police chief Seppo Kolehmainen said that he first heard rumours about the Facebook group about one year ago. He added that at the time, he directed the organisation to pay attention to their conduct on social media.
He said that he did not condone the group’s racist posts.
"My first reaction was, are people so bad that they would write that sort of thing? Don’t people have any channel to vent?"
The police chief pointed out that he wanted to be able to trust his staff, but he has zero tolerance for racism. Police stop brass also noted that the Facebook group lies outside the oversight jurisdiction of police upper management because it is a private group.
"The material that appeared in the group has now been sent to the office of the state prosecutor for investigation. We will review social media conduct and will provide an information update for personnel that will outline what has happened and I will express my personal disappointment about what has happened."