Outrageous: Facebook targets, deletes numerous political pages and accounts, cites rules regarding spam

On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that Facebook, the social media giant once called the “world’s most dangerous censor,” unpublished over 800 accounts and pages, accusing those pages and accounts of flooding users with politically-oriented content the company says violates its policies on spam.

According to the Post:

The accounts and pages, with names such as Reasonable People Unite and Reverb Press, were probably domestic actors using clickbait headlines and other spammy tactics to drive users to websites where they could target them with ads, the company said. Some had hundreds of thousands of followers and expressed a range of political viewpoints, including a page that billed itself as “the first publication to endorse President Donald J. Trump.” They did not appear to have ties to Russia, company officials said.

Facebook said it was not removing the publishers and accounts because of the type of content they posted but because of the behaviors they engaged in, including spamming Facebook groups with identical pieces of content, unauthorized coordination and using fake profiles.

“Today, we’re removing 559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior,” the company said in a blog post. “People will only share on Facebook if they feel safe and trust the connections they make here.”

Among the conservative pages that were removed: Clash Daily, with some two million followers, Silence Is Consent and Top Stories USA.  One network of conservative sites said that over a dozen of its members’ sites lost their Facebook pages.

We reached out to Facebook for an explanation, and was provided a link with an explanation one spokesperson said at the time was published “about an hour ago,” which coincided with the time pages began disappearing.

We asked Facebook why the action was taken without first reaching out to the owners of the affected pages.  We have not received a response as of this writing.

The Facebook announcement, written by Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy and Oscar Rodriguez, Product Manager, states:

People need to be able to trust the connections they make on Facebook. It’s why we have a policy banning coordinated inauthentic behavior — networks of accounts or Pages working to mislead others about who they are, and what they are doing. This year, we’ve enforced this policy against many Pages, Groups and accounts created to stir up political debate, including in the US, the Middle East, Russia and the UK. But the bulk of the inauthentic activity we see on Facebook is spam that’s typically motivated by money, not politics. And the people behind it are adapting their behavior as our enforcement improves.

Never mind that political debate will get stirred so close to an important midterm election.

“And like the politically motivated activity we’ve seen, the ‘news’ stories or opinions these accounts and Pages share are often indistinguishable from legitimate political debate,” Gleicher and Rodriguez said.

One conservative blogger wondered: “If it’s indistinguishable from the real thing, is it not possible that FB is misconstruing the real intent behind an article to fit with its preconceived belief that all conservative political sites are in it just for the money?”

Good point.  But there’s more.

“Today,” the Facebook announcement further said, “we’re removing 559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior. Given the activity we’ve seen — and its timing ahead of the US midterm elections — we wanted to give some details about the types of behavior that led to this action. 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. 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.”

But some of the sites we’ve seen taken down are legitimate conservative blogs whose Facebook pages reach literally millions of people every week.  Could it be that Facebook doesn’t consider the opinions of those sites “legitimate?”

And not all of the pages taken down lean to the right or support Donald Trump.

The Post added:

Another page, Reverb Press, had more than 700,000 followers. Posts attacked Trump and referred to Republicans as “cheating scumbags.” A third left-leaning page, Reasonable People Unite, posted a screen shot of a Twitter user who said, “Somewhere in America, a teenage girl is listening to her parents defend Brett Kavanaugh and she is thinking to herself, if something like that happens to me, I have nowhere to go.”

We’re not sure what the breakdown is at this point, and we don’t want to speculate without obtaining further information.

Interesting enough, the Daily Caller reported that one Facebook engineer resigned on Wednesday, decrying “the company culture as one that operates on groupthink, uses appeasement as a PR strategy, and attacks conservative views.”

“I’m leaving because I’m burnt out on Facebook, our strategy, our culture, and our product,” said Brian Amerige. “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.”

Is this purge part of that “groupthink?”  It’s difficult to say.

Incidents like this, by the way, are the reason that yours truly wrote “Banned: How Facebook Enables Militant Islamic Jihad” with American-Israeli Adina Kutnicki in 2016.

These kinds of actions are also the reason activist Chris Sevier drafted the “Stop Social Media Censorship Act,” a measure being considered by several state lawmakers across the country.

Sevier explained:

In my opinion, Facebook has perpetrated a form of fraudulent inducement, tortious interference of business relations, breach of the duty of care, unjust enrichment, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress by at first allowing conservatives and Christians to build a platform where they were supposedly free to express themselves only to then turn around and arbitrarily find some speech permissible and other speech impermissible.

He added:

The states have the ability to create a private right of action against the website if the censorship is taking place for political or religious reasons, unless the speech is x-rated or calls for immediate acts of violence.

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I made the statutory penalty against the censorship to be $75,000 which is the jurisdictional minimum to allow a user to take the social media website into federal district court.

The court would have subject matter jurisdiction because of diversity jurisdiction. The injured user like those in the examples documented here at the Conservative Firing Line and other sites have standing under the “long arm statute” to haul Facebook into federal or state court, if this act were to pass.

As we noted here, it’s time Republicans in Congress obtained a backbone and take action before it’s too late.

As of this writing, it’s not known if any of the affected page owners intend to take legal action.  Stay tuned…

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