As Silicon Valley tech giants continue their fight against “fake news” before the November mid-term elections, Facebook and Twitter have decided to issue another round of account purges against anti-establishment outlets. Last week, according to new reports published by RT and The Guardian, over 800 profiles were blacklisted from social media websites for the alleged spreading of “misinformation,” “spam” and conducting what they called “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
Though this new term of big tech went undefined by their sources, Facebook’s current cybersecurity policy chief Nathaniel Gleicher and product manager Oscar Rodriguez, it’s obvious to see these targeted alt-media sites are not some ‘Russian bot’ boogeymen, but rather Americans that often deal with issues of government and big business transparency, police brutality, foreign wars and faults of the mainstream media. As their accounts with millions of followers were suspended without any real justice system, their skepticism against unaccountable power seems vindicated.
“Many were using fake accounts or multiple accounts with the same names and posted massive amounts of content across a network of Groups and Pages to drive traffic to their websites,” their statement alleges. “Many used the same techniques to make their content appear more popular on Facebook than it really was. Others were ad farms using Facebook to mislead people into thinking that they were forums for legitimate political debate.”
“Of course, there are legitimate reasons that accounts and Pages coordinate with each other,” they continued. “It’s the bedrock of fundraising campaigns and grassroots organizations. But the difference is that these groups are upfront about who they are, and what they’re up to. As we get better at uncovering this kind of abuse, the people behind it — whether economically or politically motivated — will change their tactics to evade detection. It’s why we continue to invest heavily, including in better technology, to prevent this kind of misuse. Because people will only share on Facebook if they feel safe and trust the connections they make here.”
Counter-point: people will only share what Facebook deems to be “safe” and “trustworthy” enough to make it past their private gatekeeping measures. The deleted pages are bipartisan in their beliefs and include Nation in Distress, Reverb Press, Reasonable People Unite, The Resistance, Right Wing News and Snowflakes, Filming Cops, as well as the Free Thought Project.
These sites were given no reason for why these accounts were deemed fake, Facebook refuses to publish a full list of the accounts removed, and they will most definitely not release details on individual cases and their alleged infringements. As of now, such details are still being collected and revised by independent outlets such as ours.
“I would gladly abide by Facebook’s terms if I understood what they were,” said Chris Metcalf, the publisher of the left-leaning Reasonable People Unite, in his conversation with The Washington Post. “I am a legitimate political activist. I don’t have a clickbait blog. I don’t have a fake news website. And I haven’t been doing anything that all the other pages in this space aren’t doing.” Across their eight pages, the site reportedly had 2.25 million followers.
Edward Lynn, editor-in-chief at another progressive-leaning Reverb Press, only found out his page was removed when it was published in the news as “inauthentic” propaganda. “We are a legitimate news publisher,” he told The Guardian. “We are not fake news. We are not misinformation. We are not foreign. We are simply a small independent news publication trying to grow. Go read any social media expert’s advice and they all say to share on more than one page or platform,” he continued. “That’s the social media playbook. It’s a standard practice, and it’s being used as an excuse for censorship.”
Understand that while Facebook has long claimed to be a neutral platform, protected from the content of third-party publishers under Section 230, their continued censorship shows an establishment bias is behind their efforts. A former Facebook engineer, Brian Amerige, released a public memo addressed to his fellow employees stating:
“I care too deeply about our role in supporting free expression and intellectual diversity to even whole-heartedly attempt the product stuff anymore, and that’s how I know it’s time to go… I’ve been thinking about this for almost a year, and though a certain leak delayed me a bit, I know it’s time for me to move on,” he wrote. “I’m not leaving because ‘it’s time for something new, I’m leaving because I’m burnt out on Facebook, our strategy, our culture, and our product.”
“Strategically, we’ve taken a stance on how to balance offensive and hateful speech with free expression,” he continued. We’ve accepted the inevitability of government regulation. And we’ve refused to defend ourselves in the press. Our policy strategy is pragmatism — not clear, implementable long-term principles — and our PR strategy is appeasement — not morally earned pride and self-defense.”
“While I remain as in love as ever with our mission and my colleague’s nearly-always good intentions,” Amerige concluded, “I disagree too strongly with where we’re heading on these issues to watch what happens next. These issues hang over my head each morning, and I don’t want to spend all of my time fighting about them.”
This dehumanizing rhetoric of censorship, justified by the indictments of Russian trolls and con-artists by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, has expanded to include standard activists and journalists within the nation seeking to influence their electorate. “[Facebook are] changing the rules as they went,” said James Reader, a founder for Reverb Press, making the case these platforms should be protected as public utilities in the Post. “This is what the First Amendment is all about. It should be a fair, equal playing field, that’s all we ever asked for.”