Last month, Facebook finally announced that it had been teasing for weeks. The company said it would begin taking more aggressive action against QAnon and US-based militias, two groups that have increasingly posed domestic terrorist threats, including banning certain accounts and pages from its site. At the same time, the social media company said it would target groups with left-wing origins by removing anarchist or anti-fascist accounts that “support violent acts amid protests”.
The plan’s lens offered a kind of surface-level fairness and fairness, implying that groups espousing violence will be banned regardless of policy, no questions asked. But in practice, according to experts and extremism activists, Facebook’s enactment of this ban on anti-fascist accounts has been convoluted, unclear and unwarranted by the standards set by Facebook.
About a week after the ban was announced, a friend called Kelly C. Wright to let her know that her account was gone. Except for deleting a few comments she left on news articles, Wright says Facebook had never taken action on her account before or given her a warning about violating their policies. rules.
“I had read your story earlier today, so I took out my phone and saw that I had been logged out. And then I opened Facebook on my laptop to check, and my account had been banned,” she recalled over the phone, referring to an article I wrote detailing Facebook’s ban announcement.
After reaching out to friends, Wright guessed that her account may have been banned because she is an administrator of the “Leftists for Self-Defense and Gun Freedom” Facebook page, a small page that counted at barely 1,800 likes. The group’s other moderators also appeared to have been banned and the page had been suspended.
“We never posted anything that even supported revolutionary violence or anything like that,” says Jason Lee, another moderator. “The cover photo of the page was Black Panthers at California State House. It was not something that advocated violence.
Other members of the page said any support for violence found there would only have been voiced on the condition that it was defensive, a posture that Facebook said would not violate its rules.
Facebook didn’t just ban leftists for self-defense and gun freedom. When announcing the new policy, the company said it removed 980 groups and 520 pages related to militias and anti-fascists. Although the company declined to release this data, it told me that anti-fascists made up a relatively small portion of the numbers. (Facebook has also taken action against 890 Facebook groups and pages it has identified as being associated with QAnon.)
Among the other deleted pages, there were two main sources of information: He is going down, an anarchist platform that helps track far-right extremism, and crimethinc, “a decentralized anarchist collective” that published anti-fascist articles. Neither seems to be in the habit of openly advocating violence.
Facebook spokeswoman Sally Aldous declined to comment on the targeting ban. crimethinc, He is going down, or Leftists for Self Defense and Firearm Freedom, or to provide more detailed reasoning for the removals, but she noted that Facebook considers both online and offline factors when making these decisions.
Facebook’s decision to remove anti-fascist pages and groups is “extremely bizarre” according to Megan Squire, a computer science professor who studies online extremism at Elon University. “It’s not up to the standards they’ve written…It’s a very dangerous path they’re going down.”
For Squire, one of the most concerning aspects is Facebook’s apparent willingness to capitulate to the right-wing’s desire to tone down the tit-for-tat under any circumstances. Squire and anti-fascist activists suspect the bans are exactly what they sound like: a “both sides” attempt to appease conservatives who might resent that only their side is moderate.
“The idea that they would feel a perverse need on both sides is ridiculous,” she said over the phone, before recounting a conversation she had with a member of Facebook’s political team who told her. contacted to learn more about her research. “The very first question they asked me was, ‘Well, do you study both sides? “, which is a ridiculous question,” Squire recalled, explaining that there is simply no equivalent to far-right extremism.
While a Facebook spokesperson denied anti-fascists were included in August’s major moderation action in an effort to appease the right, it’s impossible to watch their inclusion in the same ad as a crackdown on QAnon and the militia and not being suspicious.
While antifa’s impending danger to America is a well-worn conservative talking point, it is unconfirmed under any scrutiny. As right-wing netizens seized on reports that police are investigating a man who expressed support for antifa in the fatal shooting of a man in Portland on Saturday, antifascists have virtually no contemporary record of human abuse in the United States. The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a centrist think tank, has catalog domestic terrorist attacks since 1994 and found that during this period the anti-fascists did not kill anyone. In this same window, far-right violence had claimed the lives of 329 people, including 117 victims over the past ten years.
“Left-wing violence has not been a major terrorist threat,” said Seth Jones, a CSIS researcher who led the project. Recount The Guardian.
Asked about its decision to include anti-fascists alongside far-right groups, a Facebook spokesperson had no clear answers but pointed out that the measures were aimed at targeting groups advocating violence by “veiled language” or promoting “hypothetical violence” that would be a threat. to public safety. The company did not explain why anarchists were targeted ahead of other violent groups that remain on the platform. While Facebook announced in late June that it would ban groups associated with boogaloo movement, a right-wing armed subculture that says it is preparing for a civil war, there remain many pages supporting the group.
Facebook’s own parameters for what constitutes anarchist and anti-fascist incitement to violence are extremely vague. In addition to the “hypothetical violence”, the spokesperson explained that “aspirational violence” against persons or property might qualify. But the company said not all types of property would be protected against threats, while declining to elaborate further. Depicting individuals holding weapons, especially in an “activist” way, could trigger action from Facebook. If this all sounds ambiguous, that’s because it is.
“In fact, I have no problem starting to question and push back anyone who supports violence in the United States,” Jones says. But even though some anti-fascists argue that violence is justified in some cases, Jones says, it’s extremely rare that they act proactively on those ideas.
At least some of the anti-fascist groups targeted by Facebook do not seem determined to proactively commit acts of violence. Wright and other Leftists for Self Defense and Firearm Freedom moderators say no, leading them to guess that the group’s banner photo depicting armed Black Panthers somehow triggered their takedown.
Mike Andrews, member of the He is going down editorial collective, explains that violence is not at the heart of the ideology of its platform. “We don’t want to kill or hurt people. We are for people who improve their own conditions. We want to inspire people to come together and do things,” Andrews said. Although he speculates that the banning of the site might have been prompted by occasional positive coverage of armed groups to oppose the New Confederates.
last spring crimethinc published an article titled “Against the logic of the guillotinewhich criticized revengeful violence as a political tool. He has also published other thoughtful meditations to how society conceptualizes when violence is and is not legitimate and how the state has a monopoly on it. Such thinking represents a stark contrast to QAnon’s fantasies about murdering supposed pedophiles or the gruesome fantasies envisioned by many armed militia members.
“Facebook is not thoughtful or taking expertise on this issue,” Squire says. “They’re finding it out as they go.”