Politics

Facebook Created A Censorship Portal For The Federal Government To Request Takedowns Of Web Content, Lawsuit Reveals

Records obtained in a lawsuit filed by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the FBI and other federal agencies for censorship have revealed a formalized process for government agents to flag content on Facebook for moderation and takedowns deemed disinformation, an Oct. 31 report from the Intercept’s Ken Klippenstein and Lee Fang shows.

The instructions, a document guiding government agents to log into the censorship app, require a government email address and once credentialed, lead officials to the web address that includes the word “xtakedowns”: https://www.facebook.com/xtakedowns/login (Archived here.)

If you travel there now, users are told, “Facebook Content Requests… Request Secure Access to the Facebook Content Requests System… This portal is for onboarded partner requests pertaining to content issues on Facebook and Instagram. If you are an onboarded partner, please put in your request through this portal… Request Access…”

According to a draft DHS Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, the department has ongoing operations to target “inaccurate information” on topics including “the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, racial justice, U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the nature of U.S. support to Ukraine.” Since these all pertain to government policies, the content in question is unquestionably all political speech, protected by the First Amendment.

While government agencies can distribute information to the public and private sector — this is what federal department and agency public affairs offices do every day under the government speech legal doctrine whose applications have been limited by the Supreme Court — directing private sector entities like Facebook to remove user content because the government disagreed with the content, is not only flagrantly unconstitutional, it is seemingly without precedent.

But I think it happened to one of my articles from this column on DailyTorch.com when Facebook somehow removed the likes for at least one anti-Joe Biden article from Oct. 2019, “It was Ukraine that reopened the Burisma-Biden probe in 2018 and sought U.S. mutual legal assistance to look at it, not the other way around,” about Ukraine by this author that focused on the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump and the Biden-Burisma scandal.

It went from 684 Facebook likes after the article’s publication, in a Dec. 2019 snapshot by web.archive.org, to now zero likes today. However, thanks to the concurrent the use of a separate WordPress plugin, ShareThis, to count Facebook shares, those numbers have been preserved, with 1,135 Facebook shares from DailyTorch.com still being counted.

The shares being preserved by ShareThis prove that the article’s Uniform Resource Locator (URL), or web address was never changed, critical to making any claim that the Facebook likes disappeared because the number of likes and shares from both Facebook and ShareThis would absolutely go to zero if the URL were ever changed. That is because every URL has a special count stored on Facebook and ShareThis’ servers, respectively.

The shares also prove the article was actually being read and distributed from DailyTorch.com, not by bots on Facebook or some other malign foreign influence. You have to actually travel over to the website and click the share button to get the share count to increase.

On every other article on DailyTorch.com, the Facebook likes work as they should. You can either like an article or cartoon on Facebook when we post it, which contains the URL, or you can like it by traveling to DailyTorch.com. That number has only ever increased for every post we ever put up on DailyTorch.com. It has never decreased unless a URL was changed or if a user deletes his account, deleting all of their own page and article likes. Until this one.

I first noticed the bug months ago but initially dismissed its significance, despite the fact that it was seemingly unprecedented for Facebook to tinker with the like counts for web articles, and the glaring unlikelihood for a web article to have more than 1,000 shares recorded but have zero likes, especially since Facebook like counts include the number of times an article was shared on its own server.

Such an outcome should be impossible.

But now that is has been revealed that Facebook constructed a portal for the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the FBI Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF) to submit problematic content to Facebook for moderation and/or removal, this raises new questions.

Namely, was my Trump impeachment, Biden-Burisma, Ukraine piece targeted by government monitors on Facebook as “malign foreign influence”? Other than Facebook of its own accord purging the like counts, or maybe even the shares, too, from their system, given that DHS was specifically targeting Ukraine-related content there seems to be no other plausible explanation.

The Facebook likes system for articles never breaks and it still appears to be working today for every other article on our website, but perhaps an investigation would find more articles, which number in the thousands on DailyTorch.com, that had been throttled, too.

The article itself depended on reporting from JustTheNews.com’s John Solomon, including quotes from former Ukrainian chief prosecutors Viktor Shokin and Yuriy Lutsenko, who were looking into the Burisma Holdings scandal. Solomon’s own reporting showed then-Vice President Biden acting as a proxy for President Barack Obama, under Article II, to condition foreign aid on the firing of Shokin. Were articles linking to Solomon’s reporting and/or quoting these officials throttled?

The allegations by the Ukrainian prosecutors against Biden were by that time public information, with the materials pertinent to the Trump impeachment in the House and ultimately trial and acquittal in the Senate, making the article absolutely protected speech under the First Amendment.

With imminent votes in Congress, we believed the impeachment was ill-founded simply because every president has the Article II power under the Constitution to talk to foreign heads of state about whatever they want.

And American citizens have a right to comment on all of those matters, write articles and share them on social media including Facebook to their hearts’ content without fear of government interference. Or at least we thought we did.

Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government Foundation.

Cross-posted with The Daily Torch

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