Facebook is the most important and most influential of social media websites, founded with a seemingly high-minded promise to connect people the world over.
Republicans say that Facebook is biased against conservatives, and that it censors their pages. U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), for instance, has said that legislation is needed to combat anti-conservative “political censorship.” Democrats, by contrast, have claimed that Facebook favored Donald Trump in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election and pressed its thumb on the proverbial scale to get him elected. Critics also claim that Facebook was asleep-at-the-wheel while Russia supposedly used it to try to affect the outcome of the 2016 election. And European policymakers have considered the possibility of taking action against Facebook under anti-monopoly laws.
But everyone agrees that Facebook is powerful because it can define political issues and candidates and frame political and cultural discourse.
More than one third of Americans routinely get their news from Facebook, according to a January 2021 report by the Pew Research Center. The Pew study indicates that 53 percent of U.S. adults “often” or “sometimes” get their news from social media in general, but 36 percent of adults say they “regularly” visit Facebook to seek news. The next runner-up among social media sites is YouTube, which 23 percent of adults regularly access for news.
White adults comprise most (60 percent) of all regular news users of Facebook. Broken down by sex, 63 percent of those accessing news on the site are women, compared to 35 percent for men. Despite these high usage figures, 59 percent say they believed the news they access is “largely inaccurate.”
According to TechCrunch.com: “Nearly half of social media users also said reading the news on social media has not made much of a difference in helping them to understand current events. This finding seems to contradict reports and studies that say social media sites — and their algorithms that personalize news to the interests and beliefs of their users — have helped radicalize people online.”
According to Oberlo.com, Facebook reached the one billion monthly active users mark in October 2012, and it doubled that user figure by June 2017. As of April 2021, Facebook had 2.8 billion monthly active users and 1.84 billion users visiting the website every day.
Facebook is the leading social platform on the Internet, reaching 59 percent of all social media users, eMarketer reported in 2020. “Facebook has the most number of active users out of all the social media platforms and people spend hours a day scrolling through their Facebook feeds,” according to Oberlo. “For many of them, Facebook isn’t just a social media platform, it’s a way of life.”
Most of Facebook’s revenue is generated by advertisements. In the final quarter of 2020, the company collected $27.2 billion in ad revenue — an average of $10.14 per user. Ad revenue consisted of 96.8 percent of its $28.1 billion in revenue for the quarter, representing a 31 percent increase over the same period the year before. As Oberlo.com reported in February 2021:
“Facebook earned significantly more in ad revenues in 2020 than it did the previous year. Totaling $84.2 billion for the year, that’s 21 percent more than in 2019. This is even more impressive considering Facebook experienced a “significant” fall in ad demands at end of the first quarter of 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This was evident in the higher seasonal fall in ad revenue from the final quarter of the previous year to the first quarter of the following year. For instance, Facebook’s 2020 first-quarter ad revenues fell 15.9 percent from the $20.7 billion generated in 2019’s fourth quarter. In comparison, 2019’s first-quarter ad revenues fell just 10.4 percent from the previous quarter.”
Facebook’s Monopoly Power & Censorship of Conservatives
In June 2020, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law began a probe examining the consolidated power of Facebook and three other companies — Google, Amazon, and Apple, Glenn Greenwald wrote at The Intercept in October 2020. (The Subcommittee’s report, available here, is titled, “Investigation of Competition in Digital Markets.”)
“Facebook, as the owner not just of its massive social media platform, but also of other key communication services it has gobbled up such as Instagram and WhatsApp, is one of the most powerful companies ever to exist, if not the most powerful,” Greenwald wrote.
According to the Subcommittee report, Facebook “has monopoly power in the market for social networking,” and that power is “firmly entrenched and unlikely to be eroded by competitive pressure” from anyone at all because of “high entry barriers—including strong network effects, high switching costs, and Facebook’s significant data advantage—that discourage direct competition by other firms to offer new products and services.”
In a New York Times op-ed, left-wing thinker Matt Stoller described Facebook and Google as “global monopolies sitting astride public discourse,” and he explained how bipartisan policy and legal changes calculated to chip away at antitrust protections have given the two companies “a radical centralization of power over the flow of information.” Stoller cautioned that this unprecedented consolidation of control over public discussions is close to setting in motion “the collapse of journalism and democracy.”
The arbitrary nature of Facebook decisions to remove certain content has been criticized for some time, even though in recent years the company has largely made its censorship criteria public.
Some Facebook censorship may be explained by founder Mark Zuckerberg’s at-times messianic hubris. In a commencement address that he delivered at Harvard in 2017, for example, he urged social transformation: “Every generation expands its definition of equality. Previous generations fought for the vote and civil rights. They had the New Deal and Great Society. Now it’s our time to define a new social contract for our generation.”
Facebook’s Origins and Development
Facebook was started in 2003 at Harvard University as Facemash, an online service which students could use to judge and rate the physical attractiveness of other students. The principal developer, Mark Zuckerberg, violated Harvard policy in acquiring resources for it, so it was shuttered after two days. Zuckerberg acknowledged afterwards that “some parts” of that website “were still a little sketchy,” The Harvard Crimson reported. In Facemash’s brief time in operation, 450 people visited the site, casting some 22,000 votes, or ratings, vis-a-vis the physical attractiveness of various students. The successful experiment led to Zuckerberg registering www.thefacebook.com as a domain name in January 2004. He built a social network with his fellow students, Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes, who all eventually became multi-millionaires and billionaires. The original domain name, facemash.com, was sold to an unidentified buyer for $30,201 in 2010.
TheFacebook.com went live in February 2004 as a social network available to students at Harvard. It allowed users to post photos of themselves with personal information such as class schedules and clubs that they joined. Not long after, students at other high-prestige schools like Stanford and Yale were allowed to sign up. By mid-2004, upwards of 250,000 students had become users, and large companies had begun paying to advertise on the website. By September of that year, TheFacebook had added the “Wall” to member profiles. This feature, which allowed the user’s friends to post items on their Wall became wildly popular, helping the site grow to 1 million active users by the end of 2004. In mid-2004, the venture capitalist Peter Thiel provided $500,000 in seed capital to the company, giving him 10.2 percent ownership of the company. It was the first outside investment in TheFacebook.
In a 2004 interview, Zuckerberg reflected on the impact that TheFacebook was having on people’s lives:
“It’s not unusual for us to receive an email from somebody saying, ‘I spend all of my time on your website and now I have less of a social life than I had before.’ We would much rather have people meet people through the website and go out and party than stay at home on a Friday night reading other people’s profiles. And it’s surprising, but we have actually received far less complaints about stalking than we otherwise would have expected.”
In 2005 the site dropped the definite article in its name and became known simply as Facebook when it purchased the domain name facebook.com for $200,000. It began letting users tag, or identify, people appearing in photos, which allowed other users to see the images, and it placed no limit on how many photos could be posted. Facebook also changed its rules that year, allowing high school students and students at universities outside the U.S. to become users. By the end of 2005, it had 6 million users. In 2006 Facebook changed the rules again, allowing anyone over the age of 13 to become users and expanding its base of advertisers.
In 2006, Facebook launched its News Feed, which allowed users to see every change that friends made to their own pages. There was a backlash as users complained about privacy issues, and the company installed controls that allowed users to regulate the content appearing in their News Feed. The company launched Beacon in 2007, which let users’ friends see what products they had bought from participating vendors. That, too, was met with an outcry rooted in privacy concerns and was discontinued. In 2008 Facebook beat out MySpace, becoming the most-visited social media website. The company launched Live Feed, modeled after Twitter’s live feed of news service-like posts from members whom users follow. Live Feed was later incorporated into the News Feed.
In 2009 Facebook introduced the “Like” button, allowing users to show their approval of posted items. The Like function arrived as Facebook agreed to acquire FriendFeed, a social sharing site that had blazed a trail in developing a Like function and real-time news updates resembling those on Twitter. “Facebook had already borrowed many of FriendFeed’s concepts, but the acquisition includes the company’s developers and knowledge,” said a CNN timeline. “Financial terms of the acquisition were not released.”
The same year, Facebook reported that it was “cash flow positive” for the first time in its history. “This is important to us because it sets Facebook up to be a strong independent service for the long term,” Zuckerberg said, noting that the website had reached the 300-million user mark worldwide. “It’s a large number, but the way we think about this is that we’re just getting started on our goal of connecting everyone.”
Facebook became important in politics beginning with the U.S. presidential election of 2008. That was when upwards of 1,000 Facebook groups were created supporting either Democratic candidate Barack Obama or Republican candidate John McCain. In the nation of Colombia, activists used Facebook to organize rallies involving hundreds of thousands of people against the FARC guerrilla insurrection. In Egypt, people who opposed President Hosni Mubarak during the 2011 uprising formed multiple Facebook groups.
A CNN timeline noted that in late 2010, protests in Tunisia “erupt and spark the Arab Spring, which spreads to neighboring countries over the next few weeks and months.” Added the timeline: “Facebook is credited as one of the catalysts for a youth revolution in the Middle East. The event shows just how powerful a tool Facebook can be for the purposes of political organizing.”
Facebook has never been known for having good business ethics. In fact, the company grew out of fraud. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg cheated his former Harvard classmates, the Winklevoss twins, out of the fruits of his paid labor for them pursuant to an oral contract.
In 2011, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss and partner Divya Narendra decided to end their long-running lawsuit against Facebook and Zuckerberg, accepting a $65 million settlement. They claimed that Zuckerberg had stolen their idea for a social-networking site they called ConnectU. The trio informed the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that “after careful consideration” they would not appeal an adverse decision to the Supreme Court.
The dispute was depicted in the 2010 movie, The Social Network, which won Academy Awards for Best Screenplay Adaptation and Best Original Score categories. The movie, which depicted Zuckerberg as “a mean-spirited, near-pathological manipulator of human social connections,” featured a clever tagline: “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” Facebook waged a campaign against the movie and the book on which it was based, Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires, but abandoned it as the movie’s release drew closer. Facebook said it considered the movie to be “fiction,” but Zuckerberg said he hoped it would inspire young people to become computer scientists. As damage control, Zuckerberg also appeared alongside the movie actor who portrayed him, Jesse Eisenberg, in a skit on Saturday Night Live.
Business Insider reported in 2010 on what it called Facebook’s “cavalier attitude to user privacy,” suggesting that it had begun early. A 19-year-old Mark Zuckerberg and a friend had this instant messaging exchange not long after Zuckerberg had started an early version of Facebook:
Zuckerberg: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuckerberg: Just ask.
Zuckerberg: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?
Zuckerberg: People just submitted it.
Zuckerberg: I don’t know why.
Zuckerberg: They “trust me”
Zuckerberg: Dumb fucks.
Facebook’s Continued Development
By 2011, Facebook hosted a larger collection of photographs than any other website. As of that year, Facebook hosted 60 billion photos, compared to Photobucket’s 8 billion, Picasa’s 7 billion, and Flickr’s 5 billion.
In September 2011, the Facebook Timeline was introduced at the company’s F8 developer conference, effectively killing “The Wall.” The new feature reorganized a user’s posts and arranged them in chronological order.
In 2012 Facebook filed an initial public offering and generated $16 billion, giving the company a market value of $102.4 billion. By way of comparison, the largest initial public offering of an Internet company before that was in 2004 for Google Inc. which raised a comparatively small $1.9 billion. By the end of the first day of trading in Facebook stock, Zuckerberg’s portfolio was valued at more than $19 billion.
Also in 2012, Facebook bought the photo-sharing website Instagram for $1 billion in cash and stock.
In January 2013, Facebook introduced Graph Search, a feature that allowed users to search for information about people in their own network or in the network of any of their connections. As a CNN timeline observed: “The searches can reveal all sorts of data including location, behaviors, job status, likes, etc. The tool demonstrates the power, scale and interconnectivity of Facebook’s growing social media platform and reminds users once again to stay on top of their privacy settings.”
In March 2013, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg released Lean In, a book about females rising to high positions in the workplace. The book sold more than 4 million copies and made Sandberg a business icon for feminists.
In January 2014 Facebook initiated a feature called Trending Topics, which initially aided Facebook’s effort to be a destination where people went for news, but later became a source of controversy because of the stories it selected for highlighting.
In 2014 Facebook purchased WhatsApp, a smartphone instant-messaging application, for $19 billion. “Even veterans of Silicon Valley goggled at the staggering sum of money changing hands, which comprises a mixture of cash and shares in Facebook,” the Economist reported at the time. “WhatsApp’s price tag is the most ever paid for a venture-capital-backed company and gives a startup founded in 2009 a valuation that is greater than that of household names such as Southwest Airlines and Sony.”
Also in 2014, Facebook purchased the virtual-reality startup Oculus VR for $2 billion. “Mobile is the platform of today, and now we’re also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow,” Zuckerberg said. “Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.”
In December 2015, Zuckerberg announced that he and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, had decided to eventually give away nearly all of their Facebook money to charity.
In April 2016, Facebook Live, the company’s live video service, was instituted across the entire site. Facebook began paying companies like Buzzfeed and The New York Times to create live video content. Zuckerberg, meanwhile, predicted that Facebook would consist of mostly video within five years.
In June 2018, it was reported that Facebook had entered into agreements with various device manufacturers to share large amounts of personal data with them. This revelation sparked a renewed wave of regulatory and consumer scrutiny of how user data was handeled by the company.
America’s largest communications union, the 700,000-member Communications Workers of America (CWA), joined an activist coalition called Freedom from Facebook that sought to break up the monopolistic social media giant, FrontPageMag reported in July 2018. Left-wing groups MoveOn.org and Public Citizen also joined the coalition. “We should all be deeply concerned by Facebook’s power over our lives and democracy,” said CWA senior researcher Brian Thorn. Facebook’s employees are not represented by CWA, but the union does represent more than 100,000 employees at AT&T Inc. Notably, Facebook’s contracted shuttle drivers and cafeteria workers reportedly belong to labor unions.
For the Federal Trade Commission to leave Facebook’s monopoly intact and fail to impose stronger privacy protection rules “would be unfair to the American people, our privacy, and our democracy,” Thorn told Bloomberg News.
Facebook’s Leftward Movement
By 2010, there were signs that Facebook was drifting noticeably leftward from a political and ideological perspective. Indeed, Facebook has never explained why it temporarily took down Facebook group pages in 2010 against the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), a large political party in Hong Kong. Facebook censored an anti-DAB discussion group run by Kelvin Sit Tak-O that had 84,000 members, the South China Morning Post reported.
It was in 2014 that Facebook’s slide into the orthodoxies of intersectional leftism began to become particularly pronounced. Around Valentine’s Day of that year, Facebook began offering users 56 different gender options with which to self-identify. Facebook said it had compiled the list by working with the “Network of Support, a group of leading LGBT advocacy organizations.” Here is the list:
- Cis Female
- Cis Male
- Cis Man
- Cis Woman
- Cisgender Female
- Cisgender Male
- Cisgender Man
- Cisgender Woman
- Female to Male
- Gender Fluid
- Gender Nonconforming
- Gender Questioning
- Gender Variant
- Male to Female
- Trans Female
- Trans Male
- Trans Man
- Trans Person
- Trans Woman
- Trans* Female
- Trans* Male
- Trans* Man
- Trans* Person
- Trans* Woman
- Transgender Female
- Transgender Male
- Transgender Man
- Transgender Person
- Transgender Woman
- Transsexual Female
- Transsexual Male
- Transsexual Man
- Transsexual Person
- Transsexual Woman
Gizmodo.com reported in May 2016 that Facebook employees habitually suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the platform “trending” news section that debuted in 2014. The trending module “constitutes some of the most powerful real estate on the internet and helps dictate what news Facebook’s users—167 million in the U.S. alone—are reading at any given moment.” An unidentified former journalist who worked for Facebook said employees blocked news stories about the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) gathering, Rand Paul, Mitt Romney, and other conservative-friendly topics showing up in the “trending” section, “even though they were organically trending among the site’s users.”
Several former Facebook “news curators,” their internal title at the company, told Gizmodo that they had been ordered to artificially “inject” selected stories into trending news “even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion—or in some cases weren’t trending at all.” “Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,” said one former conservative-leaning curator. “I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn’t be trending because either the curator didn’t recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz.” Added Gizmodo:
“The former curator was so troubled by the omissions that they kept a running log of them at the time; this individual provided the notes to Gizmodo. Among the deep-sixed or suppressed topics on the list: former IRS official Lois Lerner, who was accused by Republicans of inappropriately scrutinizing conservative groups; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; popular conservative news aggregator the Drudge Report; Chris Kyle, the former Navy SEAL who was murdered in 2013; and former Fox News contributor Steven Crowder. ‘I believe it had a chilling effect on conservative news,’ the former curator said.
“Another former curator agreed that the operation had an aversion to right-wing news sources. ‘It was absolutely bias. We were doing it subjectively. It just depends on who the curator is and what time of day it is,’ said the former curator. ‘Every once in awhile a Red State or conservative news source would have a story. But we would have to go and find the same story from a more neutral outlet that wasn’t as biased.’
“Stories covered by conservative outlets (like Breitbart, Washington Examiner, and Newsmax) that were trending enough to be picked up by Facebook’s algorithm were excluded unless mainstream sites like the New York Times, the BBC, and CNN covered the same stories. […]
“[A former] curator said the Black Lives Matter movement was also injected into Facebook’s trending news module. ‘Facebook got a lot of pressure about not having a trending topic for Black Lives Matter,’ the individual said. ‘They realized it was a problem, and they boosted it in the ordering. They gave it preference over other topics.’ […] This particular injection is especially noteworthy because the #BlackLivesMatter movement originated on Facebook, and the ensuing media coverage of the movement often noted its powerful social media presence. (In February, CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed his support for the movement in an internal memo chastising Facebook employees for defacing Black Lives Matter slogans on the company’s internal ‘signature wall.’)”
In 2016, former Facebook employees spilled the beans about the social media company’s censorship practices and promotion of fake news. As summarized by Bre Payton of the Federalist:
“The topics aren’t selected by an auto-generated algorithm, but by young, Ivy League-educated journalists called ‘news curators.’ These individuals were instructed to adhere to the company’s biased guidelines and enabled to let their own agendas run amok. These individuals revealed they were instructed to blackball conservative publications like The Blaze and Breitbart.… [The] news curators were instructed to ignore certain news topics or events altogether, and told to place items on the list that Facebook users weren’t actually talking about enough to make the topics trend.
“Whenever a conservative outlet would break a story, the news curators would wait until another ‘more neutral’ news outlet had picked it up before placing it on the list of trending topics. News events were excluded from the list unless more traditional news outlets, such as CNN or BBC, picked it up first. […]
“The team was also instructed to place items on the trending list that were not actually being talked about or shared, using the company’s ‘injection tool.’ The tool was meant to help push out breaking news stories that were not trending organically or being shared among Facebook users, but sometimes it was used to push whatever the larger news outlets were reporting, even if it wasn’t actually trending or breaking news.”
Facebook also suppressed legitimate news stories on topics such as Obama IRS official Lois Lerner’s targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups.
The 2016 Presidential Election
On November 12, 2016, a deeply embarrassed Mark Zuckerberg placed a post on Facebook in which he tried to counter accusations from the Left that the social media website had helped to elect President Trump:
“Our goal is to give every person a voice,” he wrote. “We believe deeply in people. Assuming that people understand what is important in their lives and that they can express those views has driven not only our community, but democracy overall. Sometimes when people use their voice though, they say things that seem wrong and they support people you disagree with.” […]
“Overall, I am proud of our role giving people a voice in this election. We helped more than 2 million people register to vote, and based on our estimates we got a similar number of people to vote who might have stayed home otherwise. We helped millions of people connect with candidates so they could hear from them directly and be better informed. Most importantly, we gave tens of millions of people tools to share billions of posts and reactions about this election. A lot of that dialog may not have happened without Facebook.
“This has been a historic election and it has been very painful for many people. Still, I think it’s important to try to understand the perspective of people on the other side. In my experience, people are good, and even if you may not feel that way today, believing in people leads to better results over the long term.”
In the post, Zuckerberg expressed a justified wariness about subjecting content on Facebook to fact-checkers, a reluctance that was all too soon to fade away as he came under increasingly intense pressure from leftists within and outside Facebook:
“After the election, many people are asking whether fake news contributed to the result, and what our responsibility is to prevent fake news from spreading. These are very important questions and I care deeply about getting them right. I want to do my best to explain what we know here. Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes. The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics. Overall, this makes it extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other.
“That said, we don’t want any hoaxes on Facebook. Our goal is to show people the content they will find most meaningful, and people want accurate news. We have already launched work enabling our community to flag hoaxes and fake news, and there is more we can do here. We have made progress, and we will continue to work on this to improve further.
“This is an area where I believe we must proceed very carefully though. Identifying the ‘truth’ is complicated. While some hoaxes can be completely debunked, a greater amount of content, including from mainstream sources, often gets the basic idea right but some details wrong or omitted. An even greater volume of stories express an opinion that many will disagree with and flag as incorrect even when factual. I am confident we can find ways for our community to tell us what content is most meaningful, but I believe we must be extremely cautious about becoming arbiters of truth ourselves.”
Trump campaign digital and fundraising director Brad Parscale said that Facebook had helped Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton, CNBC reported in October 2017, citing Parscale’s interview on CBS News’ 60 Minutes. Parscale asserted that Facebook “was the method” responsible for having elected Trump, whose campaign had taken advantage of Facebook in a way that Clinton’s campaign failed to do. Said parscale: “Facebook now lets you get to places and places possibly that you would never go with TV ads. Now, I can find, you know, 15 people in the Florida Panhandle that I would never buy a TV commercial for. And, we took opportunities that I think the other side didn’t.” Noting that the Trump campaign had Facebook employees “embedded inside our offices” to explain how to use the website to target voters, Parscale said he had asked Trump-supporting Facebook employees to help out the campaign. The recruitment of such people was aided by the fact that Facebook had already catalogued its workforce members by political affiliation.
According to the CNBC report: “In a statement, Facebook said it offered the campaigns ‘identical support’ and had teams assigned to both Trump and Clinton. ‘Everyone had access to the same tools,’ the company said, adding that it did not let campaigns ‘hand pick’ employees or assign its workers full time to Trump or Clinton. ‘Both campaigns approached things differently and used different amounts of support,’ Facebook said.”
In 2018 Facebook started to blame the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, which reportedly had ties to the Trump campaign, for Trump’s 2016 election victory. Facebook acknowledged that as many as 87 million users may have had their data improperly shared by Cambridge Analytica. As USA Today reported on April 4, 2018: “And many more — most users, in fact — probably had their public information scraped by outside companies, it says. The new Cambridge Analytica estimate … has raised doubts over CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s leadership, [and] is higher than the estimate of 50 million people reported three weeks ago by The New York Times and The Observer.” The Trump campaign denied using data supplied by Cambridge Analytica.
Zuckerberg admitted the error of his ways. “It’s clear now we didn’t focus enough on preventing abuse and thinking through how people could use these tools for harm,” he said. “We didn’t take a broad enough view of what our responsibility is, and that was a huge mistake. It was my mistake.”
The fallout for Facebook was “severe,” according to the CNBC article. “On the heels of revelations of how Russian operations made extensive use of its ad targeting platform to influence voters in the 2016 election, the disclosures have sparked an investigation from the Federal Trade Commission and demands for answers from attorneys general in 37 states and territories.”
More Political Bias: 2018
In 2018, Facebook removed a post with the Declaration of Independence in it, on the grounds that America’s founding document was hate speech; it soon reversed that decision after a public outcry.
In 2018 as well, Prager University complained that Facebook had blocked videos that were falsely flagged as hate speech. One censored video argued that men ought to be more masculine. Another asserted it was not “Islamophobic” to say that the Muslim world is currently “dominated by bad ideas and beliefs.” “Facebook quickly apologized, tweeting that the blocks were mistakes,” CNET reported in October 2019. “The social network, which defines hate speech as a ‘direct attack’ based on religion, gender or other protected characteristics, said it would look into what happened. That didn’t satisfy PragerU or some of its more than 3 million Facebook followers, who accused the company of intentionally censoring conservative speech.” “They didn’t do anything until there was a public outcry,” said Craig Strazzeri, chief marketing officer of PragerU.
By this time, Facebook was destroying right-leaning media outlets and websites at will, FrontPageMag reported. Early in 2018, a Facebook algorithm change crushed engagement rates on conservative groups’ pages. The change killed off the Facebook-driven websites Rare.us and LittleThings and was strangling other sites as well. Facebook likewise killed Right Wing News, a website run by Townhall contributor John Hawkins. “Social media IS the new public square,” Hawkins wrote. “It’s the place you go when you want to reach out and find an audience,” except that “Facebook has for all intents and purposes announced that it’s killing off pages. So much for having a conservative voice there.”
A 2018 study by Western Journal found that the algorithm change gave 25 left-leaning media organizations a 1.86 percent bump in Facebook traffic, while 25 right-leaning media outfits averaged a 13.71 percent drop.
Facebook only backed off of Trump boosters Diamond and Silk (Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson) after its “shadow-banning”—covertly blocking or limiting the reach—of the popular page of Hardaway and Richardson received national attention during a congressional hearing. Diamond and Silk lamented that Facebook allowed “appalling” things – “videos of people getting shot, killed, and beat up… they even show pictures of our President decapitated.”
Although all that Diamond and Silk do is talk on camera, Facebook flagged their page as “unsafe to the community,” without elaborating. Grilled by then-Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that in that case “our team made an enforcement error and we have already gotten in touch with them to reverse it.”
Critics have long complained that Facebook continues to enable Muslim terrorists. Facebook has been named in a handful of lawsuits by survivors of recent terrorist attacks, for providing material support to groups such as Islamic State by failing to take down the pages of terrorist organizations. Facebook is also a safe place for Antifa, the self-styled “anti-fascist” terrorists who assault Trump supporters and shut down conservative and Republican events.
In September 2018, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee about election interference. “Later that month, Facebook reveals that its platform was hacked and the data for as many as 30 million users could have been exposed,” according to a CNN timeline. Facebook ended 2018 with “more than 30,000” people working on safety on the platform and a promise to put “billions of dollars” into security annually, Zuckerberg said.
In November 2018, The New York Times published a story revealing that Sheryl Sandberg had asked her communications team to research the financial interests of leftwing billionaire philanthropist George Soros. Under fire from the Left for targeting one of its heroes, Zuckerberg defiantly stated in an interview with CNN that he had no intention of stepping down from his position as Facebook’s CEO.
In July 2020, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Zuckerberg for allegedly having lied to Congress in 2018, Business Insider reported. During testimony, Gaetz wrote in a letter to the Department, “members of Congress asked Mr. Zuckerberg about allegations that Facebook censored and suppressed content supportive of President Donald Trump and other conservatives.” “In his responses, Mr. Zuckerberg repeatedly and categorically denied any bias against conservative speech, persons, policies, or politics,” Gaetz added. “Mr. Zuckerberg also dismissed the suggestion that Facebook exercises any form of editorial manipulation.”
Conservatives Have an Advantage, Facebook Executive Claims
An unidentified Facebook executive supposedly told Politico that the right wing has an ingrained advantage on the platform because it is better at connecting to people emotionally. Throughout the 2020 election cycle, Democrats condemned Facebook as a “right wing echo chamber” with a “conservative bias” that was giving Donald Trump an edge in the election, Politico reported on September 26, 2020. “The growth of right-wing content on the platform has enraged liberals,” said Politico, “who accuse the social media giant of kowtowing to the right out of fear of being painted as biased toward the left.” “But Facebook says there’s a reason why right-wing figures are driving more engagement,” Politico explained. “It’s not that its algorithm favors conservatives — the company has long maintained that its platform is neutral. Instead, the right is better at connecting with people on a visceral level, the company says.” “Right-wing populism is always more engaging,” said the Facebook executive, claiming that such content addresses “an incredibly strong, primitive emotion” by dealing with topics like “nation, protection, the other, anger, fear.”
The executive also implied a link between American conservatism and Nazism: “That was there in the 30s. That’s not invented by social media — you just see those reflexes mirrored in social media, they’re not created by social media. It’s why tabloids do better than the [Financial Times], and it’s also a human thing. People respond to engaging emotion much more than they do to, you know, dry coverage. …This wasn’t invented 15 years ago when Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook.”
In the waning days of the 2020 presidential campaign, the Facebook posts with the most user engagement — as measured by likes, comments, shares, and reactions — came from conservatives outside the mainstream media: Dan Bongino, Ben Shapiro, David Harris Jr., Franklin Graham, and “Blue Lives Matter,” according to Facebook-owned Crowdtangle. “Trump’s personal page also regularly makes the top of the list,” said Politico, “in effect allowing him to become a publisher in his own right and navigate around the traditional media. Left-wing posts make the daily top-25 much less frequently. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and the Facebook savvy Occupy Democrats are among the pages that occasionally hit such levels of engagement.”
Former Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos Calls for Censorship of Conservatives & Compares Them to ISIS Terrorists
In a January 17, 2021 interview with CNN’s Brian Stelter, Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former chief security officer, likened conservatives to ISIS terrorists. He also called for the government to censor all conservative voices — including those on social-media platforms — so that any messages which are anathema to Facebook and the left can be de-platformed. Some key excerpts from Stamos’ remarks include the following:
- “To me, one of the enduring images of [the storming of the U.S. Capiol building by purported Trump supporters on] January 6 is going to be that line of men in matching green tactical outfits with their hands on their shoulders snaking their way through the disorganized mob. And that is effectively what we are facing online, and that you have a large number of people [conservatives] who are angry and aggrieved, and who have been lied to by the right-wing news ecosystem, as well as online influencers about the election, and who want to show that anger and they want to feel like they’re part of something. And then within that disorganized mob, you have a small number of people who are highly organized and who really want to create violence. And so, I think one of the things we have to do is we have to careful to try to separate those out and to not allow that small group of organized people to speak on behalf of everybody. That is one of the problems I think we’ll have around media coverage of this, is that the 3 percenters, the Proud Boys, folks like that, that they will be given an outsized influence and their messages will be amplified over and over again because their messages are extremely scary. Those groups need to be treated like ISIS effectively, right? There is a history here of both between law enforcement and social media companies of being able to reduce the online presence and the influence of those groups. And then we have to work on the broader disinformation problem to try to turn down the anger that you see from that huge percentage of Republicans who believe that the election was stolen.”
- “It’s really hard because what’s happening is people are able to seek out the information that makes them feel good. That is what’s happening. People have so much choice now. They can choose what their news sources are. They can choose what influencers they want to follow and they can try to seal out anything that helps them question that. And I think that gets to a really core issue with how our freedoms as Americans in the way we have treated press freedom in the past is being abused by these actors in that we have given a lot of leeway both in the traditional media and on social media to people to have a very broad range of political views. It is now in the great economic interest of those individuals to become more and more radical. And I think one of the places you can see this is on the fact that you now have competitors to Fox News on their right.”
- “OANN and Newsmax, which are carried by all the major cable networks who are trying to outflank Fox on the right because the moment Fox introduced any kind of realism into their reporting, immediately, a bunch of people chose to put themselves into a sealed ecosystem. And they can do that both on cable. They can do it online. And that becomes a huge challenge in figuring out how do you bring people back into the mainstream of fact-based reporting and try to get us all back into the same consensual reality.”
- “[T]here needs to be an intentional work by the social media companies collaborating together, to work on violent extremism in the same way they worked on ISIS. When I started on Facebook in 2015, the number one challenge from a content perspective was the abuse of social media by the Islamic state. And there was a collaboration between the tech companies and law enforcement to make it impossible for them to use the Internet to recruit and radicalize mostly young Muslim men at the same around the world. Now, we’re talking about domestic audience in the United States. And the challenge is going to be partially that ISIS did not have a domestic constituency in the United States Congress, but there is over half of the Republicans in Congress voted to overturn the election. And there will be a continual political pressure on the companies to not take it seriously.”
- “So, I think, first, you have to focus on those violent extremists, and those companies have to be brave in that way. And, second, we have to turn down the capability of these conservative influencers to reach these huge audiences. There are people on YouTube, for example, that have a larger daytime — larger audience than daytime CNN, and they are extremely radical and pushing extremely radical views. And, so, it is up to the Facebooks and YouTubes in particular to think about whether or not they want to be effectively cable networks for disinformation. And then we have to figure out the OANN and Newsmax problem, you know, these companies have freedom of speech but I’m not sure we need Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and such to be bringing them into tens of millions of homes.”
Zuckerberg “King of 2 Billion People”
Benny Thomas, Facebook’s Global Planning Lead, was caught on undercover video by Project Veritas complaining that the company had become too powerful and needed to be broken up by the government, Fox News reported on March 15, 2021. “I work for a company that is doing a lot of damage in the world,” he said, adding, “It’s doing a lot of good, but it’s doing a lot of damage.” “I mean, no king in history has been the ruler of two billion people, but Mark Zuckerberg is,” Thomas said of Facebook’s founder and CEO. “And he’s 36. That’s too much for a 36-year-old … You should not have power over two billion people. I just think that’s wrong.”
Facebook-owned platforms such as Instagram, Oculus, and WhatsApp “need to be separate companies” because it’s “too much power when they’re all one together,” Thomas told an undercover reporter for Project Veritas. “I would break it up and I would remove Zuck as the CEO.”
Thomas said the numerous lawsuits Facebook was fighting would “drag on for years and years” and “nothing is going to happen” on the government front because politicians will “just keep fighting.” “The government needs to step in and break up Google and Facebook,” he said. “I’ll make less money but it’s a better thing for the world. Facebook and Google are too powerful and they need to be made less powerful.” “Facebook and Google are no longer companies, they’re countries,” Thomas added, opining that “bad things” would happen if companies like Facebook and Google “remained unchecked.”
An Overview of Facebook’s “Community Standards”
In 2015, several women complained that Facebook banned photos depicting breastfeeding and drag queens complained about the website’s policy requiring the use of real user names on accounts, a sympathetic Wired article reported. “In response, Facebook shared a previously unseen level of detail about how it polices content, answering the breastfeeding controversy, for example, with lines like, ‘We also restrict some images of female breasts if they include the nipple, but we always allow photos of women actively engaged in breastfeeding or showing breasts with post-mastectomy scarring.’” Facebook modified its name policy, allowing users to sign up using their “authentic identities,” or the names they used on a daily basis.
In 2016, Mark Zuckerberg criticized policies associated with then-candidate Donald Trump: “It takes courage to choose hope over fear. As I look around the world, I’m starting to see people and nations turning inward, against the idea of a connected world and a global community. The path forward is to bring people together, not push them apart. I hear fearful voices calling for building walls and distancing people they label as ‘others’. I hear them calling for blocking free expression, for slowing immigration, for reducing trade, and in some cases even for cutting access to the internet.”
Soon after, Facebook began compiling blacklisting guidelines aimed at limiting free expression.
In April 2018, Wired.com reported that Facebook had made public “virtually the entire Community Standards playbook that moderators use to determine whether comments, messages, or images posted” by its users are in violation of its policies. “These moves are part of Facebook’s ongoing Trust-A-Palooza effort to be more open in the face of unprecedented criticism,” said the sympathetic Wired.com article. “In doing so, the company is laying bare just how much ugliness its global content moderators deal with every day, and just how hard it is to always get it right.”
“I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time,” said Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Management. “I have actually had conversations where I talked about our standards and people said, ‘I didn’t actually realize you guys have policies.’”
Bickert’s comments came after Zuckerberg had testified before Congress, claiming responsibility for content posted on Facebook. As Wired.com reported:
“[Zuckerberg] apologized when legislators brought up cases where his moderators (now an army of 7,500) failed to take down clearly inappropriate content, from opioid sales to hate speech in Myanmar that potentially fueled a genocide. Yet he never backed down from his belief that the company was on a path towards minimizing the problem by adding more moderators and ultimately automating the process with AI [i.e., artificial intelligence] algorithms that would catch objectionable content much more quickly than moderators, who generally view content when users flag it as inappropriate.”
“In the interrogatory heat, he did not get a chance to lay out the nuanced approach the company takes to enforce its self-defined community standards while also encouraging free expression, including speech that some users might find objectionable. Facebook’s dilemma is that it wants to be a safe place for users without becoming a strict censor of their speech. In the document released today it explains, ‘We err on the side of allowing content, even when some find it objectionable, unless removing that content prevents a specific harm.’”
The 27-page guide released in 2018 represents almost all of the official document provided to the website’s moderators, according to Bickert. “(The exceptions involve information in areas like terrorism that might make it easier for malfeasants to evade notice),” Wired.com reported. “And it is a living document—its release today will undoubtedly lead to specific criticisms that the company will consider in its ongoing revision of the policy.”
The almost 8,000-word bulleted list of forbidden content, said Wired.com, “describes with often explicit levels of granularity how Facebook defines more than 20 different offenses, from harassment and graphic violence to false news and fake accounts. Consider the bullet point prohibiting videos showing the ‘tossing, rotating, or shaking of an infant too young to stand by their wrists, ankles, arms, legs, or neck.’ The standards call for Facebook to provide resources to people who post ‘images where more than one cut of self mutilation is present on a body part and the primary subject of the image is one or more unhealed cuts.’”
“The standards are at their most exacting when it comes to hate speech, an attempt to walk the fine line between banning genuine toxic content and allowing people to vent frustrations in general. It’s okay to use hate speech when discussing hate speech, though. And you can quote hate speech to make fun of it. The difficulty of making such determinations is why the company is struggling to automate the process, though Bickert is optimistic that algorithms will soon be able to nail hate speech effectively,” Wired reported.
“In addition to pulling back the curtain on content moderation, Facebook will also make it possible for people to appeal bans on individual posts; previously they’d been able to do so only for entire Pages. Starting with takedowns involving nudity or sexual activity, hate speech and graphic violence, Facebook is promising a speedy clarification and a possible reconsideration, ideally within 24 hours.”
As of April 2021, Facebook was advising users that it aspired “to be a place where people feel empowered to communicate,” emphasizing that “ we take seriously our role in keeping abuse off our service.” Additional key excerpts from Facebook’s “Community Standards” page include the following:
- “Our policies are based on feedback from our community and the advice of experts in fields such as technology, public safety and human rights. To ensure that everyone’s voice is valued, we take great care to craft policies that are inclusive of different views and beliefs, in particular those of people and communities that might otherwise be overlooked or marginalized.”
- “We want people to be able to talk openly about the issues that matter to them, even if some may disagree or find them objectionable. In some cases, we allow content for public awareness which would otherwise go against our Community Standards – if it is newsworthy and in the public interest. We do this only after weighing the public interest value against the risk of harm and we look to international human rights standards, as reflected in our Corporate Human Rights Policy, to make these judgments. As such, we consider the newsworthiness of content posted by anyone, including news organizations and individual users. For example, we have allowed content that graphically depicts war or the consequences of war where it is important to public discourse.”
When Facebook limits expression, it claims to do it “in service of one or more of the following values”: “authenticity,” “safety,” “privacy,” and “dignity.”
- Authenticity “creates a better environment for sharing, and that’s why we don’t want people using Facebook to misrepresent who they are or what they’re doing.”
- Regarding safety: “Expression that threatens people has the potential to intimidate, exclude or silence others and isn’t allowed on Facebook.”
- Regarding privacy: “We are committed to protecting personal privacy and information. Privacy gives people the freedom to be themselves, and to choose how and when to share on Facebook and to connect more easily.”
- Regarding dignity: “We believe that all people are equal in dignity and rights. We expect that people will respect the dignity of others and not harass or degrade others.”
“People can report potentially violating content, including Pages, Groups, Profiles, individual content, and comments,” says Facebook. “We also give people control over their own experience by allowing them to block, unfollow or hide people and posts. The consequences for violating our Community Standards vary depending on the severity of the violation and the person’s history on the platform. For instance, we may warn someone for a first violation, but if they continue to violate our policies, we may restrict their ability to post on Facebook or disable their profile. We also may notify law enforcement when we believe there is a genuine risk of physical harm or a direct threat to public safety.”
Banned: Violence and Incitement
Facebook states in its censorship guidelines that it understands that “people commonly express disdain or disagreement by threatening or calling for violence in non-serious ways, we remove language that incites or facilitates serious violence.”
“We remove content, disable accounts, and work with law enforcement when we believe there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety,” says Facebook. “We also try to consider the language and context in order to distinguish casual statements from content that constitutes a credible threat to public or personal safety. In determining whether a threat is credible, we may also consider additional information like a person’s public visibility and the risks to their physical safety.” Facebook further explains that some “aspirational or conditional threats directed at terrorists and other violent actors,” such as a statement that terrorists deserve to be killed, are treated as “non credible absent specific evidence to the contrary.”
To avoid being censored, Facebook advises users not to post “[t]hreats that could lead to death (and other forms of high-severity violence) targeting people or places …” This covers “[s]tatements of intent to commit high-severity violence,” and “[c]ontent that asks or offers services for hire to kill others (for example, hitmen, mercenaries, assassins) or advocates for the use of a hitman, mercenary or assassin against a target.”
Threats leading to “serious injury (mid-severity violence) towards private individuals, unnamed specified persons, minor public figures, high risk persons, or high risk groups” are banned. This includes “[s]tatements of intent to commit violence,” and “[s]tatements advocating violence.”
Also proscribed are: “Instructions on how to make or use weapons if there’s evidence of a goal to seriously injure or kill people …”
“Any content created for the express purpose of outing an individual as a member of a designated and recognizable at-risk group” is banned, says Facebook. This includes “[c]ontent that puts LGBTQI+ people at risk by revealing their sexual identity against their will or without permission,” and “[c]ontent that puts unveiled women at risk by revealing their images without veil against their will or without permission.”
Facebook bans “[v]iolent threats against law enforcement officers … [or] against people accused of a crime,” as well as “[m]isinformation and unverifiable rumors that contribute to the risk of imminent violence or physical harm.”
Moreover, Facebook bans certain statements pertaining to political elections: “Any content containing statements of intent, calls for action, conditional or aspirational statements, or advocating for violence due to voting, voter registration or the administration or outcome of an election,” is forbidden. Also banned are “Statements of intent or advocacy, calls to action, or aspirational or conditional statements to bring weapons to locations, including but not limited to places of worship, educational facilities polling places, or locations used to count votes or administer an election ( or encouraging others to do the same).”
Likewise prohibited are “[c]oded statements where the method of violence or harm is not clearly articulated, but the threat is veiled or implicit,” and “[i]mplicit statements of intent or advocacy, calls to action, or aspirational or conditional statements to bring armaments to locations, including but not limited to places of worship, educational facilities, polling places, or locations used to count votes or administer an election (or encouraging others to do the same).”
Facebook adds: “We may also restrict calls to bring armaments to certain locations where there are temporarily signals of a heightened risk of violence or offline harm. This may be the case, for example, when there’s a known protest and counter-protest planned or violence broke out at a protest in the same city within the last 7 days.”
COVID-19 Free Speech Forbidden
Under the same “Violence and Incitement” category, Facebook in 2020-21 tightly regulated content pertaining to COVID-19 and vaccinations aimed at preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes it. Such policies no doubt inhibited free discussion.
“Based on input from experts in health communication and related fields, we are also taking additional steps amid the pandemic to reduce the distribution of content that does not violate our policies but may present misleading or sensationalized information about vaccines in a way that would be likely to discourage vaccinations …” Facebook stated. “As the situation evolves, we continue to look at content on the platform, assess speech trends, and engage with experts like the World Health Organization (WHO), government health authorities, and stakeholders from across the spectrum of people who use our service, and we will provide additional policy guidance when appropriate to keep the members of our community safe during this crisis.”
Facebook removes “misinformation when public health authorities conclude that the information is false and likely to contribute to imminent violence or physical harm.”
Facebook banned “[c]ontent coordinating in-person events or gatherings when participation involves or encourages people who have COVID-19 to join,” as well as “[c]ontent calling to action, advocating, or promoting that others not get the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Facebook banned claims that wearing a face mask did not help prevent COVID-19 spread, and that wearing a face mask could sicken the wearer. Claims that social distancing did not help prevent spread were also banned, as well as claims about COVID-19 that “contribute to vaccine rejection.” Claims that such vaccines were unsafe or had serious side effects were banned, along with claims “that building immunity by getting COVID-19 is safer than getting the vaccine.”
Facebook forbade claims that COVID-19 vaccines altered people’s DNA, caused infertility, miscarriages or sterility, or “do not provide any immunity to people.”
Facebook also banned claims that COVID-19 was “manmade,” “manufactured or bioengineered,” “a bioweapon,” or “created by an individual, government, or country.”
Facebook blocked a February 22, 2020 New York Post column that suggested the Wuhan virus could have leaked from a virology lab in mainland China. A year later the newspaper noted, “Today, it’s a commonly discussed theory, with officials from former CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield to CNN’s Sanjay Gupta saying it can’t be discounted. Even the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said it can’t be ruled out.”
In February 2021, Facebook said it would expand its crackdown on what it deemed to be false COVID-19 vaccine claims, while at the same time advising users where to get the shots. Anything that deviated from the received wisdom of purported experts would be forbidden, including claims that the vaccines were toxic, dangerous, or ineffective, lead to autism, or that is it safer to become from COVID-19 than to receive the vaccination.
“Health officials and health authorities are in the early stages of trying to vaccinate the world against COVID-19, and experts agree that rolling this out successfully is going to be helping build confidence in vaccines,” said Kang-Xing Jin, Facebook’s head of health. “We know that misinformation thrives in the absence of good information,” he added. “So because of this, a core part of our strategy is actually partnering with health authorities and amplifying credible information to meet people’s needs and get their questions answered where they are.”
- On May 26, 2021, Facebook announced that it would no longer remove posts claiming or speculating that COVID-19 was man-made or originated in China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology. “In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made from our apps,” a Facebook spokesperson told Politico.As the New York Post reported on May 26: “The social media giant’s reversal comes as the lab leak theory is gaining steam, amplified by a recent report in The Wall Street Journal that said three workers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalized in November 2019 with coronavirus-like systems.” Moreover, speculation about the possible laboratory origins of the virus was given great momentum by the May 23 airing of Fox News host Mark Levin‘s interview with former New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade.Also on May 26, President Biden, who in March 2021 had terminated a Trump-era investigation into the possibility that coronavirus may have been created in a lab, ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to once again take up the probe.
On May 28, 2021, The Epoch Times reported that Morgan Kahmann, a former data center technician for Facebook, had stepped forward to leak documents exposing the company’s strategy of censoring content that might encourage any measure of “vaccine hesitancy” — i.e., reluctance by the public to take the newly developed coronavirus vaccine. Said Kahmann: “Anything that questions the vaccine or the narrative regarding the vaccine, which is, you know, everyone should get the vaccine and the vaccine is good and you’re not going to get many bad side effects, anything outside of that realm is basically considered under ‘vaccine hesitancy’ by Facebook’s algorithms…. Facebook uses classifiers in their algorithms to determine certain content … they call it ‘vaccine hesitancy.’ And without the user’s knowledge, they assign a score to these comments that’s called the ‘VH Score,’ the ‘Vaccine Hesitancy Score.’ And then, based on that score, will demote or leave the comment alone depending on the content within the comment.”
Banned: Dangerous Individuals and Organizations
“To prevent and disrupt real-world harm,” Facebook bans “any organizations or individuals that proclaim a violent mission or are engaged in violence.” This includes organizations or individuals involved in “[t]errorist activity,” “[o]rganized hate,” “[m]ass murder (including attempts) or multiple murder,” “[h]uman trafficking,” and “[o]rganized violence or criminal activity.”
Facebook also forbids content that “expresses support or praise for groups, leaders, or individuals involved in these activities.” This includes so-called “hate organizations,” their leaders and high-profile members. Facebook defines a hate organization as: “Any association of three or more people that is organized under a name, sign, or symbol and that has an ideology, statements, or physical actions that attack individuals based on characteristics, including race, religious affiliation, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexual orientation, serious disease or disability.”
Facebook bans “symbols that represent” such organizations and individuals “without context that condemns or neutrally discusses the content.” Facebook forbids “content that praises” such organizations “or individuals or any acts committed by them.” Facebook does not allow “coordination of support” for such organizations “or individuals or any acts committed by them.” “We do not allow content that praises, supports, or represents events that Facebook designates as terrorist attacks, hate events, mass murders or attempted mass murders, serial murders, hate crimes and violating events,” the company states.
Banned: Coordinating Harm and Publicizing Crime
Facebook allows “people to debate and advocate for the legality of criminal and harmful activities, as well as draw attention to harmful or criminal activity that they may witness or experience as long as they do not advocate for or coordinate harm.” But the website forbids “people from facilitating, organizing, promoting, or admitting to certain criminal or harmful activities targeted at people, businesses, property or animals.”
Facebook advises users against posting content “[d]epicting, admitting to or promoting acts of physical harm against people, including acts of domestic violence — except when shared in the context of redemption or defense.” It also bans “statements of intent, calls to action, representing, supporting, advocating for, depicting, admitting to or speaking positively about” swatting. One online source describes swatting as “a criminal harassment tactic of deceiving an emergency service into sending a police and emergency service response team to another person’s address.”
Facebook bans “[s]tatements of intent, calls to action, representing, supporting or advocating for, or depicting, admitting to or promoting: Acts of physical harm against animals committed by [the user or associates] except in cases of hunting, fishing, religious sacrifice, food preparation or processing, pest or vermin, self-defense or redemption; Staged animal vs. animal fights, including acts committed by a third party.”
Facebook also bans “[s]tatements of intent, calls to action, representing, supporting or advocating for harm against property that depicts, admits to, or promotes the following acts committed by [the user or associates]: Vandalism; Hacking when the intent is to hijack a domain, corrupt or disrupt cyber systems, seek ransoms, or gain unauthorized access to data systems; Theft when committed by you or your associates, as well as positive statements about theft when committed by a third party.”
Facebook does not allow “[o]ffers to buy or sell votes with cash or gifts; Statements that advocate, provide instructions, or show explicit intent to illegally participate in a voting or census process.” It also forbids misrepresentation regarding “dates, locations, and times, and methods for voting or voter registration or census participation; Misrepresentation of who can vote, qualifications for voting, whether a vote will be counted, and what information and/or materials must be provided in order to vote.” Content claiming the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is present at a voting location is forbidden.
Facebook advises users not to post content “revealing the identity of someone as a witness, informant, activist, or individuals whose identity or involvement in a legal case has been restricted from public disclosure.”
Banned: Regulated Goods
Facebook does not tolerate certain discussions involving firearms even if said discussions concern perfectly lawful practices or items. It bans the use of its platform to facilitate “the purchase, sale, gifting, exchange, and transfer of firearms, including firearm parts or ammunition, between private individuals … ”
Facebook advises users against posting content that “[a]ttempts to buy, sell, trade, donate, gift or solicit firearms, firearm parts, ammunition, explosives, or lethal enhancements between private individuals, unless posted by a real brick-and-mortar store, legitimate website, brand or government agency (e.g. police department, fire department).” Content that provides “access to 3D printing or computer aided manufacturing instructions for firearms or firearms parts even when posted by brick and mortar stores, brands and legitimate websites” is not allowed.
“To encourage safety and compliance with common legal restrictions,” Facebook prohibits “attempts by individuals, manufacturers, and retailers to purchase, sell, or trade non-medical drugs, pharmaceutical drugs, and marijuana.”
Facebook bans content that “[a]ttempts to buy, sell, trade, donate, gift, or solicit endangered species or their parts; Admits to poaching, buying or trading of endangered species and their parts committed by the poster of the content either by themselves or through others; Depicts poaching of endangered species and their parts committed by the poster of the content by themselves or through others; Speaks positively, coordinates or encourages the poaching of endangered species and their parts; Provides instructions to use or make products from endangered species and their parts.”
Facebook restricts the visibility of certain content regarding alcohol, tobacco, bladed weapons, weight loss products, and potentially dangerous cosmetic procedures, to users 18 years of age and older.
Banned: Fraud and Deception
Facebook prohibits content “that can harm people or businesses.” The website removes content “that purposefully deceives, willfully misrepresents or otherwise defrauds or exploits others for money or property. This includes content that seeks to coordinate or promote these activities using our services.” At the same time, Facebook allows “people to raise awareness and educate others as well as condemn these activities.”
The website forbids content “that provides instructions on, engages in, promotes, coordinates, encourages, facilitates, admits to, recruits for, admits to the offering, or solicitation of any of the following activities: Deceiving others to generate a financial or personal benefit to the detriment of a third party or entity through: Investment or financial scams [including] Loan scams, Advance fee scams, Ponzi or pyramid schemes, Money or cash flips or money muling, Investment scams with promise of high rates of return.”
Also disallowed are various scams involving charity, impersonation, grants, benefits, as well as “Fake jobs, work from home, or get-rich-quick scams,” and “Debt relief or credit repair scams.”
Facebook forbids content involving fake or forged documents, currency, vouchers, educational or professional certificates. Content involving the trading, selling, or buying of personal identifiable information, fake and misleading user reviews or ratings, future exam papers or answer sheets, credentials for subscription services, and betting manipulation, for example match fixing, are also prohibited.
Facebook advises users not to post content “that engages in, promotes, encourages, facilitates, or admits to the following activities: bribery, embezzlement, money laundering (concealment of the origins of criminally obtained money).”
Zuckerberg speaks at the Munich Security Conference
In February 2020, Zuckerberg posed as a defender of free speech when he told global leaders and security officials at the Munich Security Conference in Germany that a regulatory framework that seeks to preserve free speech online needs to be adopted for social media before repressive countries like mainland China begin influencing the rules about the free flow of information.
Zuckerberg said on February 15, 2020, that he was “very worried” that countries like the People’s Republic were introducing “authoritarian values” into how the Internet is regulated. “To encode democratic values, open values, we’ve got to move forward, move quickly, before more authoritarian models get adopted in a lot of places first,” he said. “Where people can share and inform communities, that is a positive force.”
Zuckerberg’s remarks echoed those from his October 17, 2019 speech at Georgetown University when he said his company had refused to expand into China because its “very different values” did not align with Facebook’s. “Until recently, the Internet in almost every country outside China has been defined by American platforms with strong free expression values,” he said at the time. “There’s no guarantee these values will win out. A decade ago, almost all of the major internet platforms were American. Today, six of the top ten are Chinese.”
German-born, Texas-based attorney Dr. Nick Oberheiden, who studied law in Munich, told The Epoch Times “it was very interesting” that Zuckerberg chose to address “a world-preeminent military and national security conference,” instead of a “Las Vegas social media conference with some techies.” “But no one has asked what he was doing there,” noted Oberheiden, saying that leaders and officials of countries whose values contradict those of the United States “want to befriend him personally.” Meanwhile, “Facebook is building a database that may compete with or supersede the databases of government agencies in some countries,” he said. “I think the intelligence community that was present at the Munich conference more and more relies on the digital, detailed information that social platforms can provide.” “Should all countries have the same access?” Oberheiden asked. “Why is a social media entrepreneur at a military and national security conference?” It is “just not an obvious forum for an American entrepreneur,” he stated. “We need to stimulate a debate that is strikingly missing.”
The rise of Facebook has “revolutionized the definition of what can be considered national security,” Oberheiden added. “It is no longer just military secrets, and who is your spy, but is the underlying economic information … and trade secrets, individuals’ locations, and their connections with other individuals.”
“Zuckerbucks” in the 2020 Election
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife helped buy the presidency for Joe Biden in 2020 by strategically donating more than $400 million to left-wing activist groups that, in turn, awarded huge grants to election administrators in order to create what Phill Kline, director of the Thomas More Society’s Amistad Project, called “a two-tiered election system that treated voters differently depending on whether they lived in Democrat or Republican strongholds.” In a December 2020 Amistad Project report, Kline, who also served as attorney general of Kansas from 2003-07, wrote that in 2020 there was “an unprecedented and coordinated public-private partnership to improperly influence” the election in swing states, a partnership that “effectively placed government’s thumb on the scale to help these private interests achieve their objectives and to benefit” Biden. And Zuckerberg was a central player on the “private” side of that equation.
According to the Amistad Project’s report, Zuckerberg and his wife made $419.5 million in donations to nonprofits during the 2020 election cycle – $350 million of which went to the “Safe Elections” Project of the Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL), while the other $69.5 million went to the Center for Election Innovation and Research.
Contrary both to federal law and state legislature-endorsed election plans, Zuckerberg’s money “dictated city and county election management,” Kline wrote in the Amistad Project report’s executive summary. In addition, “executive officials in swing states facilitated, through unique and novel contracts, the sharing of private and sensitive information about citizens within those states with private interests, some [of] whom actively promote leftist candidates and agendas.” This sharing of data “allowed direct access to data of unique political value to leftist causes, and created new vulnerabilities for digital manipulation of state electronic poll books and counting systems and machines.”
As the COVID-19 crisis worsened in March 2020, more and more lawsuits were filed by left-wing organizations aimed at weakening laws designed to protect the integrity of absentee ballots. Claiming that voters should not have to risk their physical well-being to vote, Democrats and other voting-by-mail advocates sought to make mail-in balloting mandatory for all Americans in the 2020 election. Toward that end, they attempted to overturn restrictions on voting-by-mail in well over a dozen state courts. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told MSNBC on May 20 that voting in person was “a health issue” in the era of the pandemic. Republicans countered that mail-in voting should not be expanded because it is so susceptible to fraud, and because Democrats were using the pandemic as an excuse to rig the election.
The attorney leading the legal onslaught against fair elections was Marc Elias of the high-powered Democratic law firm Perkins Coie. Elias has a long history of successfully fighting electoral integrity policies in court, eliminating or weakening signature-matching requirements and ballot-receipt deadlines. While Elias and his fellow leftist litigators were ripping electoral safeguards to shreds, battleground state governors began issuing emergency executive orders restricting in-person voting, which has many anti-fraud safeguards, while putting state resources into promoting high-risk, fraud-prone voting-by-mail. “[T]his coordinated assault on in-person voting generally favored Democrat Party voters who preferred to vote in advance, while placing Republicans, who preferred to vote in person, at a disadvantage,” Kline stated in the Amistad Project report.
Combined, these actions helped to create “a two-tier election system favoring one demographic while disadvantaging another demographic,” wrote Kline.
Infused with hundreds of millions of dollars from Zuckerberg, the Center for Tech and Civic Life — whose previous annual revenues never exceeded $1.2 million — suddenly began asking Democratic Party strongholds to seek strings-attached grants that imposed strict conditions on the way recipient jurisdictions ran their elections. Consequently, in May 2020, CTCL gave $100,000 to Racine, Wisconsin and asked its mayor to recruit four other cities (Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison, and Milwaukee) to develop a joint grant request. The bloc of cities submitted a “Wisconsin Safe Election Plan” on June 15 to CTCL and, in turn, got $6.3 million from the nonprofit to implement the plan. By Kline’s telling, it was a plan that treated state election-integrity laws “as obstacles and nuisances to be ignored or circumvented.” Moreover, said Kline, CTCL “retained the right, in the grant document, to, in its sole discretion, order all funds returned if the grantee cities did not conduct the election consistent with CTCL dictates.” In effect, CTCL managed the election in the five affected Wisconsin cities.
The CTCL-engineered plan also circumvented voter ID requirements for absentee ballots by defining all voters as “indefinitely confined” due to COVID-19, and later, after criticism from the Wisconsin Supreme Court, by directing election clerks not to question such claims. The plan also ushered in the use of drop boxes for ballot collection, a move that disrupted the chain of custody of the ballot, and consolidated counting centers, thereby “justifying the flow of hundreds of thousands of ballots to one location and the marginalization of Republican poll watchers such that bipartisan participation in the management, handling, and counting of the ballots was compromised.”
A group known as the Wisconsin Voter Alliance (WVA) filed a legal complaint with the Wisconsin Election Commission against CTCL, claiming that the election-assistance grants it gave to Democrat-dominated cities violated state laws prohibiting the provision of monies to election officials to induce persons to vote or influence an election outcome. Indeed, Zuckerberg’s saturation-bombing of CTCL with money allowed the group to hand out so much cash that Democratic strongholds spent around $47 per voter, compared to $4 to $7 per voter in traditionally Republican areas of Wisconsin. Zuckerberg-underwritten CTCL grants also found their way to election officials in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, South Carolina, Texas, and Pennsylvania.
In Pennsylvania, for example, CTCL grants directed to Philadelphia where they were used to pay election judges and other election officials, and to increase the number of polling locations, ballot drop boxes, mobile ballot-pickup units in the city. Moreover, Zuckerberg cash allowed Philadelphia to “cure” improperly completed absentee ballots in a manner not provided for in Republican-leaning areas of the state. For example, in Democrat-dominated Delaware County, Pennsylvania, one drop box was put in place every four square miles and for every 4,000 voters. By contrast, in the 59 counties that Trump had won in 2016, there was one drop box for every 1,100 square miles and every 72,000 voters.
“Government encouraging a targeted demographic to turn out the vote is the opposite side of the same coin as government targeting a demographic to suppress the vote,” Kline wrote in the Amistad Project report. “This two-tiered election system allowed voters in Democrat strongholds to stroll down the street to vote while voters in Republican strongholds had to go on the equivalent of a ‘where’s Waldo’ hunt. These irregularities existed wherever Zuckerberg’s money was granted to local election officials. In effect, Mark Zuckerberg was invited into the counting room, and the American people were kicked out.”
Facebook Cracks Down on Election-Related “Misinformation”
Facebook unveiled new measures aimed at halting the spread of false information on the social media platform ahead of the November 2020 elections, NPR reported October 21, 2019.
“Elections have changed significantly since 2016, but Facebook has changed, too,” Mark Zuckerberg said on a conference call with reporters. “We know that we have a big responsibility to secure our platform and stay ahead of some of these new threats to election security,” he said, adding that issue is one of his “top priorities.”
Facebook said it would label pages and ads from media outlets it deems “state-controlled,” and prominently label posts deemed false by fact-checkers. “We’ve gone from being on our back foot, to proactively identifying clusters of fake accounts and taking them down,” said Zuckerberg.
In the run-up to the November 2020 elections, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said: “We are on high alert before the election and after the election. We are worried about misinformation. We are worried about people claiming election results [prematurely].”
Facebook and Twitter were using artificial intelligence and human review to prevent information deemed harmful from proliferating on social media, including information deemed to undermine election results. “The platforms now say they will label or remove posts that say mail-in ballots are fraudulent, for example, and will not allow anyone to advocate violence to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power,” NPR reported on October 1, 2020. “Just in the last few days, Facebook has said it will reject ads that claim premature victory or that try to ‘delegitimize’ the outcome. Google, owner of YouTube, which has become a big destination for political content, said it won’t allow any political advertising at all after polls close.”
Then-candidate Joe Biden’s presidential campaign attacked Facebook because it refused to ban Trump outright. The campaign called Facebook “the nation’s foremost propagator of disinformation about the voting process” because it opted to label, rather than delete, Trump’s posts criticizing mail-in voting.
Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other Silicon Valley players met with U.S. government officials to review their plans to counter disinformation on social media in the lead-up to the November 2020 elections, NPR reported August 13, 2020. The tech companies released a joint statement saying they were focused on the upcoming Republican and Democratic national conventions and “scenario planning relating to election results.”
Facebook’s cybersecurity policy chief, Nathaniel Gleicher, said the company was trying hard to make voters get accurate information. “I think I actually want to make the act of trying to tell a lie, or misleading people, more difficult,” he said. In March 2020, Facebook revealed that it had deleted 49 Facebook accounts, 69 pages, and 85 Instagram accounts it believed were engaging in “foreign interference.”
“So we know right now in this election,” said Gleicher, “there are massive debates about all of the ways that people vote and people engage. We want to make sure that people hear what elected officials are saying and what they think about voting. But frankly, I think that information is an important factor in how some people will choose to vote in the fall. And so we want to make sure that information is out there and people can see it, warts and all.”
Left-wing pressure groups urged Facebook “to do more to counter hate speech, falsehoods about the election and efforts to delegitimize mail-in voting,” NPR reported on September 25, 2020. Among those groups were the NAACP, Color of Change, and the Anti-Defamation League.
In September 2019, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had announced that he planned to create a Facebook “Oversight Board,” as a tribunal to rule on content-moderation disputes. But activists accused Facebook of dragging its heels on getting the Board operational and engaged in political theater to pressure the company to ramp up its efforts before Election Day 2020. A British activist organization called The Citizens created something it called the “Real Facebook Oversight Board” as a “deliberate troll” of the actual Oversight Board, TheVerge.com reported at the time. “We are deeply concerned that Facebook is now being weaponized, will be weaponized in the coming weeks and possibly even after November 3rd [Election Day] … to drive anti-democratic dynamics and undermine the results of the vote,” said Shoshana Zuboff, professor emerita at Harvard Business School and a member of the shadow Oversight Board, as reported by NPR. Zuboff also said Facebook was “a roiling cauldron of lies, violence and danger destabilizing elections and democratic governance around the world.”
“Facebook is already being used to suppress the Black vote in 2020 and we’ve seen all sorts of attacks on Black voters across the country,” said Rashad Robinson, president of far-left racial-grievance group, Color of Change. “We’re seeing an unprecedented amount of disinformation and misinformation traveling across the platform.”
Facebook took down Trump campaign posts and advertisements that featured an upside-down red triangle, claiming fancifully that it was a symbol used by the Nazis, NPR reported on June 18, 2020. One of the ads stated that “dangerous MOBS of far-left groups are running through our streets and causing absolute mayhem.”
The Trump campaign countered that the symbol is used in Antifa imagery, but the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum said some prisoners in Third Reich concentration camps were identified with colored inverted triangles sewn into their uniforms.
Facebook and Twitter took down a post shared by Trump about a “racist baby” after a copyright complaint, NPR reported June 19, 2020. The item, said NPR, “included deceptively doctored footage of two toddlers, one black, one white, running down a sidewalk with the fake CNN headline: ‘Terrified toddler runs from racist baby,’ as suspenseful music plays. ‘Racist baby probably a Trump voter,’ the fabricated headline then says. Then the video shows viral footage from last year of the two babies sprinting toward each other and hugging, falsely suggesting that CNN had manipulated what happened to create a fake news story.”
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the post was making a “satirical point.” “The point is,” she said, “it was a play on CNN repeatedly taking the president out of context.”
On August 5, 2020, NPR reported that Facebook had taken down a post shared by Trump in which the president urged schools to reopen because children are “almost immune from this [COVID-19] disease.” Facebook claimed that the post violated the platform’s COVID-19 misinformation policy. “Research has shown that while children tend to get infected with the coronavirus less often and have milder symptoms than adults, kids can still contract and spread it. Some have gotten seriously ill and even died,” the NPR article stated.
“The president was stating a fact that children are less susceptible to the coronavirus,” said Trump campaign spokesperson Courtney Parella. “Another day, another display of Silicon Valley’s flagrant bias against this President, where the rules are only enforced in one direction. Social media companies are not the arbiters of truth.”
After the nationwide vote on Election Day, November 3, 2020, Trump supporters began to realize that the apparent Trump victory they saw the night of the election was slipping away. Trump supporters began organizing on Facebook to “Stop the Steal” they believed was underway as Democrat Joe Biden’s vote count gradually improved. “The Facebook group, Stop the Steal, said on its now-removed page that it had been created by Women for America First, a pro-Trump organization founded by a former Tea Party activist,” NPR reported on November 5, 2020. The group’s description stated that “Democrats are scheming to disenfranchise and nullify Republican votes.” It urged “boots on the ground to protect the integrity of the vote.”
Facebook weighed in on behalf of Democrats, responding by crushing free speech, that is, legitimate debate about the election results. Facebook deleted a group of 360,000 members claiming voter fraud and urging real-world protests. In short, Facebook took the view that Republicans were not entitled to freely discuss election-related issues.
“The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone claimed without evidence and without noting that calls for violence are commonplace on left-wing pages. The decision to ban the group was made “in line with the exceptional measures that we are taking during this period of heightened tension” because the group “was creating real-world events,” Stone explained. “This is the most intense online disinformation event in U.S. history, and the pace of what we have found has only accelerated since [Election Day],” claimed Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former chief security officer.
Collusion with the Biden Presidential Campaign and California Democrat Officials to Censor Speech About the Election
In April 2021, it was reported that the government watchdog organization Judicial Watch had obtained — as a result of a public records request stemming from a December 2020 report that California’s Office of Election Cybersecurity had successfully asked the Big Tech companies Twitter, Facebook and Google to remove or flag at least two dozen messages — more than 500 pages of documents from the California Secretary of State. Fox Business reported that these documents showed “California officials colluding with social media giants to censor speech surrounding the 2020 elections,” adding:
The group [Judicial Watch] also said a communications firm linked to the Biden campaign played a role in determining which posts should be censored by creating “Misinformation Daily Briefings” that the officials shared with Twitter, Facebook and Google. “These new documents suggest a conspiracy against the First Amendment rights of Americans by the California Secretary of State, the Biden campaign operation, and Big Tech,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “These documents blow up the big lie that Big Tech censorship is ‘private’ – as the documents show collusion between a whole group of government officials in multiple states to suppress speech about election controversies.”
Suppressing the Hunter Biden Story
With weeks remaining before Election Day, in October 2020, the New York Post published a cover story that it described as a “blockbuster” that contained “smoking gun” evidence in the form of emails said to show that Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, had secured favors from his father when the latter was the sitting U.S. vice president, to benefit Ukrainian energy concern Burisma. Burisma paid the younger Biden $50,000 per month to sit on its board of directors.
“The Post’s hyping of the story as some cataclysmic bombshell was overblown,” wrote Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept, but “these emails, if authenticated, provide some new details and corroboration, the broad outlines of this story have long been known: Hunter was paid a very large monthly sum by Burisma at the same time that his father was quite active in using the force of the U.S. Government to influence Ukraine’s internal affairs.”
But when the potentially impactful article was published, “pro-Biden journalists created a climate of extreme hostility and suppression toward the Post story, making clear that any journalist even mentioning it would be roundly attacked,” said Greenwald. Noting the hostile climate, Twitter and Facebook tried to kill the story. as Greenwald explained:
“Just two hours after the story was online, Facebook intervened. The company dispatched a life-long Democratic Party operative who now works for Facebook — Andy Stone, previously a communications operative for Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, among other D.C. Democratic jobs — to announce that Facebook was ‘reducing [the article’s] distribution on our platform’: in other words, tinkering with its own algorithms to suppress the ability of users to discuss or share the news article. The long-time Democratic Party official did not try to hide his contempt for the article, beginning his censorship announcement by snidely noting: ‘I will intentionally not link to the New York Post.’”
A follow-up New York Post article was also suppressed, Greenwald noted. This later article detailed efforts by Hunter Biden to score profitable deals with a Chinese energy outfit by dropping his father’s name. “In sum,” wrote Greenwald, “the two Silicon Valley giants, with little explanation, united to prevent the sharing and dissemination of this article. As Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Pearce put it, ‘Facebook limiting distribution is a bit like if a company that owned newspaper delivery trucks decided not to drive because it didn’t like a story. Does a truck company edit the newspaper? It does now, apparently.’”
“That the First Amendment right of free speech is inapplicable to these questions goes without saying. That constitutional guarantee restricts the actions of governments, not private corporations such as Facebook and Twitter. But glibly pointing this out does not come close to resolving this controversy. That actions by gigantic corporations are constitutional does not mean that they are benign.
“State censorship is not the only kind of censorship. Private-sector repression of speech and thought, particularly in the internet era, can be as dangerous and consequential. Imagine, for instance, if these two Silicon Valley giants united with Google to declare: henceforth we will ban all content that is critical of President Trump and/or the Republican Party, but will actively promote criticisms of Joe Biden and the Democrats. (Emphasis in original)
“Would anyone encounter difficultly understanding why such a decree would constitute dangerous corporate censorship? Would Democrats respond to such a policy by simply shrugging it off on the radical libertarian ground that private corporations have the right to do whatever they want? To ask that question is to answer it.”
Squelching the Hunter Biden story helped to elect his father. The month after the 2020 election, most voters believed that the media had buried the story about Hunter Biden’s foreign business adventures to aid his father’s campaign, according to a Rasmussen Reports survey. The poll found 52 percent of likely voters believed the paucity of Hunter Biden coverage was meant to help the campaign, while just 32 percent considered it a partisan hit job and 17 percent were unsure, the New York Post reported. “An even higher margin — 56 percent — said it’s ‘likely’ the elder Biden was consulted about his son’s business with Ukrainian energy company Burisma and ties to China, and perhaps profited,” said the Post. “Forty-three percent say it’s ‘very likely,’ 38 percent said it’s ‘unlikely,’ and 22 percent believe it’s ‘not at all likely’ — rates that have remained consistent with a poll in October. A whopping 76 percent of those who have been ‘very closely’ following the news believe the media ignored the stories to help the president-elect, and 72 percent of that group also think the former vice president ‘likely’ knew about and profited from his son’s dealings.”
On November 24, 2020, The Epoch Times reported that many voters in 7 battleground states who had voted for Joe Biden said they would not have voted for him if had they known about major stories the national media ignored, according to a survey that had just been made public. Knowing about claims regarding Hunter Biden’s dealings with officials and firms in China, Ukraine, and Russia would have made enough respondents change their vote to affect the outcome of the presidential election, according to the survey (pdf) of 1,750 Biden voters.
The survey found that 6 percent of Biden voters who were unaware of the information would have changed their vote to Donald Trump if they had known the information. “In 6 of the 7 states surveyed, enough voters would have not voted for Joe Biden that those states would have gone to President Trump, giving Trump 311 electoral votes and re-electing him,” the survey’s executive summary stated. “More than half of Biden voters surveyed were not aware that Facebook and Twitter prevented users from posting satirical images of Biden, or that Antifa groups and pages were still active on Facebook,” the summary stated.
“The national news media stole this election, as far as I’m concerned, they deliberately stole it from President Trump,” Media Research Center President Brent Bozell said as he released the survey results. “It is absolutely unequivocal, it cost Donald Trump the election.”
The Rise and Fall of Parler
Conservatives began leaving Facebook and Twitter in 2020 at a rapid pace as the social media monopolies began interfering with the election by suppressing conservative viewpoints and censoring and stigmatizing Donald Trump, routinely attaching disclaimers to his statements based on self-serving pronouncements by left-leaning fact-checking outfits.
Fed up with Twitter’s suppression of Republicans, Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo helped burst the dam, tweeting two days after the 2020 election that she was exiting Twitter. “This is the same group who abused power in 2016,” Bartiromo tweeted to her 900,000 followers. “I will be leaving soon and going to Parler. Please open an account on @parler right away.”
Founded in 2018, Parler, a microblogging site that competes with Twitter, describes itself as “the world’s premier free speech platform,” NPR reported November 14, 2020. Parler CEO John Matze “and I started Parler to provide a neutral platform for free speech,” GOP donor Rebekah Mercer wrote in a Parler post. She also condemned “the ever increasing tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords.”
“We take a hard line against pornography and nudity,” Matze said. “But if people disagree with one another, we’re not there to mediate or moderate the conversation.”
“The success of Parler is partly because people understand that they’re getting censored,” Bartiromo said, while interviewing Matze on her show. “Have Twitter and Facebook gone too far?” she asked. Matze replied: “Once you start content curation and you start fact-checking, you’re introducing bias.”
At the end of December 2020, popular conservative radio host Mark Levin left Facebook after complaining about its censorship of conservatives. He urged his fans to join Parler.
Because of all the publicity, Parler became one of the most downloaded apps for Apple and Android smartphones. It hit the 10-million member mark in the days following the November election, more than doubling its 4.5 million membership base. “Our growth is not attributable to any one person or group, but rather to Parler’s efforts to earn our community’s trust, both by protecting their privacy, and being transparent about the way in which their content is handled on our platform,” said Jeffrey Wernick, Parler’s chief operating officer.
But Parler’s rapid rise was cut short when the giants of Silicon Valley conspired to destroy it.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates and a chorus of left-leaning pundits denounced and smeared Parler as it became clear that the site was gaining in popularity and could one day pose a threat to the established social media platforms. “If somebody goes to Parler, they are saying, ‘I like crazy stuff,’ Gates said. “If you want Holocaust denial, hey, Parler is going to be great for you,” CNBC quoted the billionaire saying on November 18, 2020. (Incidentally, Gates’ statement came a month after Facebook announced that it would “prohibit any contest that denies or distorts the Holocaust.”)
“Organizations that study trends in hate speech are reporting increases in online attacks against many groups worldwide, and we continue our efforts to remove it,” Facebook vice president of content policy Monica Bickert said in a statement on October 12, 2020. “We have banned more than 250 white supremacist organizations and updated our policies to address militia groups and QAnon. We also routinely ban other individuals and organizations globally, and we took down 22.5 million pieces of hate speech from our platform in the second quarter of this year. Following a year of consultation with external experts, we recently banned anti-Semitic stereotypes about the collective power of Jews that often depicts them running the world or its major institutions.”
Social media competitors were outraged that Parler refused to crack down on free speech by imposing the heavy-handed, sometimes arbitrary rules enforced by Facebook and Twitter. Their outrage grew exponentially as Parler continued to be a free medium used by Trump supporters during the security breach at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, that delayed congressional certification of the presidential election a few hours.
Parler, critics claimed in increasingly exasperated tones, was a hub for insurrection and anti-democratic activity and needed to be dealt with, they loudly complained. Specifically, they claimed that Parler served as a center of operations for those involved in the Capitol breach.
The claim was manifestly untrue, argued left-wing journalist Glenn Greenwald, who accused critics of scapegoating Parler. According to a January 13, 2021 report by the Post Millennial, Greenwald said: “Of the first 13 people arrested by the FBI in connection with the event at the Capitol, a total of zero were active users of Parler. The overwhelming amount of planning for that event, the overwhelming amount of advocacy for people to go there and to breach the Capitol was done on Facebook, and on YouTube, and on Twitter.” “This is one of the ironies is that Google is one of the monopolies that wants to police our discourse and control our thinking and rule our politics that kicked Parler off of its app at the exactly the time that Parler had gone to number one,” Greenwald said in a reference to downloads of the Parler smartphone app which had skyrocketed as other social media platforms intensified their crackdowns against Donald Trump, his supporters, Republicans, and conservatives. “Google said, we will not allow you on our service,” Greenwald stated, when “the reality is the service that Google owns, YouTube, played a much greater role.”
Parler faced withering criticism after the events of January 6 (the storming of the U.S. Capitol) as critics claimed that the platform’s laissez-faire approach to content moderation allowed extremists to organize. Parler was then expelled from the Google Play store and the Apple App store on the same day. Amazon, which controls a vast array of web servers through its Web Services division, booted Parler off its web servers, a move that took Parler offline.
“The censoring and removal of Parler at the hands of the three tech giants has caused the three big tech companies, Apple, Google, and Amazon, to face accusations of abusing monopolistic market power. No evidence has arisen thus far showing that any of the rioters organized the raid on the Capitol over Parler,” the Post Millennial stated.
Parler filed an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon in federal court, alleging that Amazon had acted out of “political animus” and was trying to limit competition in order to benefit Twitter, which is a customer of Amazon’s Web Services division. Parler sought an emergency order to prevent Amazon’s shutdown of its account, saying it was tantamount to “pulling the plug on a hospital patient on life support.” Amazon “will kill Parler’s business — at the very time it is set to skyrocket,” the complaint said.
Amazon claimed that Parler violated Amazon’s terms of service by failing to do enough to combat death threats and other risks to public safety. To add insult to injury, Amazon smeared Parler. “It is clear that there is significant content on Parler that encourages and incites violence against others, and that Parler is unable or unwilling to promptly identify and remove this content, which is a violation of our terms of service,” Amazon said. “If Parler is not available, people will turn to alternatives, or perhaps return to Twitter or Facebook,” Parler’s legal complaint stated. “And once those users have begun to use another platform, they may not return to Parler once it’s back online.”
Two months later Parler dropped its antitrust action against Amazon without explaining why, TheVerge.com reported on March 3, 2021. At the same time, Parler initiated a fresh lawsuit against Amazon in Washington state court, claiming defamation and breach of contract by Amazon.
Meanwhile, Greenwald wrote an article on Substack.com, in which he savaged Big Tech for favoring Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube over Parler. In a broadside aimed at his fellow left-wingers, Greenwald wrote that “liberals celebrated this use of Silicon Valley monopoly power to shut down Parler, just as they overwhelmingly cheered the prior two extraordinary assertions of tech power to control U.S. political discourse: censorship of The New York Post’s reporting on the incriminating contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop, and the banning of the U.S. President from major platforms.”
“Not only did leading left-wing politicians not object but some of them were the ones who pleaded with Silicon Valley to use their power this way,” Greenwald wrote, referring specifically to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York). He also referenced journalist Michelle Goldberg, who openly worried about the power of Big Tech companies but praised them anyway. “That is because the dominant strain of American liberalism is not economic socialism but political authoritarianism,” Greenwald said, and “they are now calling for the use of the most repressive War on Terror measures against their domestic opponents.”
Greenwald also attacked Twitter, calling its suppression of the Hunter Biden story “one of the most alarming events to ever take place in American politics in the last decade.”
Allum Bokhari, author of the 2020 book DELETED: Big Tech’s Battle to Erase the Trump Movement and Steal the Election, agreed with Lou Dobbs of Fox Business News in at item broadcast January 13, 2021, when Dobbs described the plot to erase Parler as “an unprecedented event [in which] all of Silicon Valley and Big Tech converg[ed] to destroy this one social media company.” Said Bokhari: “What we’re witnessing, really, is the revenge of the corporate oligarchs. It’s the culmination of a trend I’ve been covering for five years at Breitbart News, which is the merging of the political power of the Democratic Party with the unchecked corporate power of big tech giants. And by forcing Parler off the Internet – one of the few social networks where you could have free speech – they’ve sent a message to an American people: ‘we are not going to allow you to have free speech on the internet anymore, you’re not going to have it again, you’re not going to threaten our power or our narratives again, and anyone who tries to do it will be destroyed.’”
The move to squash Parler was not “just a corporation trying to squelch a competitor,” Bokhari added. “They are doing that, but it’s much more than that. It’s, as I said, the Democratic Party using these giant corporations as its muscle, to squelch dissent, to stamp out competing points of view. And it’s actually very similar to what the Chinese Communist Party does. It uses so-called private corporations as an arm of the state, as an arm of political power. That’s now happening in America, and I think we’re going to see a lot more of it as Democrats increasingly call for retribution against their political opponents.”
Banned People and Groups
Facebook banned the website VDARE, which embraces an America First and immigration-restrictionist agenda, for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” in April 2020. The website claimed that 19 pages, 15 accounts, and 1 group were participating in a scheme to use fake accounts to “evade enforcement” and “create fictitious personas.” “The pages, which were investigated as part of Facebook’s efforts to stop manipulation ahead of the 2020 election, posted conspiracy theories about the coronavirus and ‘hate speech about Asian Americans,’ according to Facebook,” the Daily Beast reported. VDARE was taken down as part of a larger sweep, Facebook announced, describing it as “a website known for posting anti-immigration content, and individuals associated with a similar website The Unz Review. We found this activity as part of our internal investigations into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior ahead of the 2020 election in the US.”
In May 2020, Facebook summarized its overall efforts as follows:
“We’re constantly working to find and stop coordinated campaigns that seek to manipulate public debate across our apps. In 2019 alone, we took down over 50 networks worldwide for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB), including ahead of major democratic elections. These efforts are led by a cross-disciplinary team focused on finding and disrupting both the most sophisticated influence operations aimed to manipulate public debate as well as high volume inauthentic behaviors like spam and fake engagement. Over the past several years, our team has grown to over 200 people with expertise ranging from open source research, to threat investigations, cyber security, law enforcement and national security, investigative journalism, engineering, product development, data science and academic studies in disinformation. […]
“While we investigate and enforce against any type of inauthentic behavior — including fake engagement, spam and artificial amplification — we approach enforcement against these mostly financially-motivated activities differently from how we counter foreign interference or domestic influence operations. We routinely take down less sophisticated, high-volume inauthentic behaviors like spam and we do not announce these enforcement actions when we take them.
“We view influence operations as coordinated efforts to manipulate public debate for a strategic goal where fake accounts are central to the operation. There are two tiers of these activities that we work to stop: 1) coordinated inauthentic behavior in the context of domestic, non-state campaigns (CIB) and 2) coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign or government actor (FGI).”
Under the subheading of “Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior (CIB),” Facebook states: “When we find domestic, non-government campaigns that include groups of accounts and Pages seeking to mislead people about who they are and what they are doing while relying on fake accounts, we remove both inauthentic and authentic accounts, Pages and Groups directly involved in this activity.”
Under the subheading of “Foreign or Government Interference (FGI),” Facebook states: “If we find any instances of CIB conducted on behalf of a government entity or by a foreign actor, we apply the broadest enforcement measures including the removal of every on-platform property connected to the operation itself and the people and organizations behind it.”
In mid-2019, Facebook gave the boot to several right-wing political figures, BBC reported at the time. For example, it banned Alex Jones, host of InfoWars, its U.K. editor Paul Joseph Watson, and ex-Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos for allegedly engaging in so-called hate speech. Also banned were former GOP candidates Laura Loomer and Paul Nehlen, and Canadian conservative commentators Faith Goldy and Gavin McInnes.
Suspending Candace Owens
In May 2019 The Epoch Times, citing investigative reporting by Breitbart News, reported that Facebook had asked its employees to investigate the background of black conservative commentator Candace Owens in hopes of discovering information that the company could use to justify banning her from its platform. An internal Facebook spreadsheet listed her among supposed “hate agents.”
Owens’ Facebook account was suspended on May 17, 2019, for seven days after she posted a graphic of her Twitter post that showed the disparity between poverty rates among blacks and whites in the U.S., as well as the high incidence of father-absence in black households. She blamed left-wing government policies. “Black America must wake up to the great liberal hoax,” she wrote. “White supremacy is not a threat. Liberal supremacy is.” Facebook claimed the account had been suspended by mistake and was restored the same day.
According to The Epoch Times:
Facebook maintains that it doesn’t look at people’s political views when deciding whom to ban, but its Community Standards are, to a degree, a partisan manifesto. The standards heavily focus on suppressing “hate speech,” even though Americans are divided sharply along political lines on what does and doesn’t constitute “hateful” speech, a 2017 Cato survey (pdf) showed.
While in the United States, most of what Facebook labels as “hate speech” would be lawful to utter publicly because of First Amendment protections, some European countries have laws against “hate speech,” forcing Facebook to take such content offline. Facebook could theoretically make such content only available to users in locales where it’s lawful, but the company has apparently subscribed to the “hate speech” doctrine, tripling its content policing force to some 30,000.
The document with Owens’s name was posted into an internal discussion group set up by former Facebook senior engineer Brian Amerige, who left the company due to disagreements over content policing.
“I’m glad to see the group continues to be used to raise awareness inside the company about Facebook’s slippery slope of a content policy,” he said via the Facebook Messenger app. “In a very sad way, it’s comically predictable to see people listed as ‘extra credit’ to watch and investigate. Evolution into the ‘thought police’ is the inevitable result of their dangerous and ineffective approach to promoting the truth.”
The core issue Amerige hit an impasse on with Facebook executives was their insistence on suppressing “hate speech,” which Amerige deemed misguided.
“Hate speech can’t be defined consistently and it can’t be implemented reliably, so it ends up being a series of one-off ‘pragmatic’ decisions,” he previously said. “I think it’s a serious strategic misstep for a company whose product’s primary value is as a tool for free expression.”
Facebook not only acknowledged that it can’t draw a clear line between what is and isn’t “hate speech,” but that it also keeps a portion of its rules secret.
A Facebook spokesperson previously told The Epoch Times that users are partially kept in the dark to prevent them from circumventing the rules, but didn’t respond when asked why the company doesn’t spell out its policies in full and add a rule against rule circumvention.
In November 2020, Owens vowed to sue Facebook’s fact-checkers including USA Today and Lead Stories. “It is time to fact-check the fact-checkers,” she said.
As of April 2021, Owens had more than 3.3 million followers on Facebook.
Silencing The Epoch Times
In mid-2019, Facebook banned ads from The Epoch Times. “The decision follows an NBC News report that The Epoch Times had shifted its spending on Facebook in the last month, seemingly in an effort to obfuscate its connection to some $2 million worth of ads that promoted the president and conspiracy theories about his political enemies,” NBC reported on August 26, 2019.
“Over the past year we removed accounts associated with The Epoch Times for violating our ad policies, including trying to get around our review systems,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “We acted on additional accounts today and they are no longer able to advertise with us.”
“Facebook’s decision came as a result of a review prompted by questions from NBC News. The spokesperson explained that ads must include disclaimers that accurately represent the name of the ad’s sponsors.
“The Epoch Times‘ new method of pushing the pro-Trump conspiracy ads on Facebook, which appeared under page names such as ‘Honest Paper‘ and ‘Pure American Journalism,’ allowed the organization to hide its multimillion-dollar spending on dark-money ads, in effect bypassing Facebook’s political advertising transparency rules. Facebook’s ban will affect only The Epoch Times‘ ability to buy ads; the sock-puppet pages created to host the new policy-violating ads were still live at the time of publication.”
Then the NBC article laid bare the real reason why Facebook had banned The Epoch Times’ ads:
“Since 2016, The Epoch Times‘ revenue more than doubled, and the reach of its online content rocketed past that of every other news organization, attracting billions of views across its many platforms. It also became a player on the conservative media stage, securing interviews with Trump Cabinet members, loyalists and family members, as well as members of Congress and Republican media stars.”
The Epoch Times categorically denied the allegations made by Facebook. NBC and MSNBC, according to the newspaper, had “spread misinformation and outright falsehoods, and led to a series of other media reports that did the same.”
Cutting Off Shared.com
Between 2006 and 2020 the content-curation website Shared.com spent close to $46 million on Facebook advertising before being abruptly shut out of the platform without warning. “We didn’t do anything wrong and I’m confident in that,” Shared CEO Jordan Nabigon told Business Insider in an article published January 5, 2021. “Even if there was something that was off, there’s no way it was worth this kind of reaction from Facebook.” He wrote a post on Medium.com detailing his experience.
“The pages and accounts associated with this business [Shared.com] have repeatedly broken our advertising rules, including intellectual property violations, posting misinformation and promoting deceptive offers,” a Facebook representative said. “While they claim they are giving people ‘free’ access to coupons and products, our investigation indicated that people have never received their products and/or have been repeatedly charged. Our priority is to support and empower small businesses looking to grow on Facebook, not those that seek to mislead or scam people out of money.”
Additional Examples of Facebook Censoring Conservatives
To view numerous additional examples of Facebook censoring and terminating the accounts of conservative individuals, organizations, and publications, click here.
Bias of Facebook’s Lead Stories
Lead Stories, one of the fact-checker organizations on Facebook, is funded by Communist China, The Epoch Times reported on December 10, 2020.
Lead Stories is paid partly paid by way of a partnership with TikTok, a popular social media platform run by a Chinese concern that owes its allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The Trump administration identified TikTok as a possible threat to U.S. national security. The organization in charge of overseeing the quality of Facebook’s fact-checkers is operated by the Poynter Institute, another TikTok partner.
According to aforementioned The Epoch Times piece:
“Lead Stories says it’s been contracted by ByteDance ‘for fact-checking-related work,’ referring to TikTok’s announcement earlier this year that it has partnered with several organizations ‘to further aid our efforts to reduce the spread of misinformation,’ particularly regarding the CCP virus pandemic, which originated in China and was exacerbated by the CCP regime’s coverup.
“Lead Stories was started in 2015 by Belgian website developer Maarten Schenk, CNN veteran Alan Duke, and two lawyers from Florida and Colorado. It listed operating expenses of less than $50,000 in 2017, but had expanded sevenfold by 2019, largely because of the more than $460,000 Facebook paid it for fact-checking services in 2018 and 2019. The company took on more than a dozen staffers, about half of them CNN alumni, and became one of Facebook’s most prolific fact-checkers of U.S. content.”
In 2020, the funding sources included Google, Facebook, ByteDance, and several online advertising services. Advertising brought in under $25,000 in 2019, the group said, adding that “the bulk” of its funding comes from Facebook.
A Reminder: Facebook Owes You Nothing
Jason Birch was locked out of his personal Facebook account and banned permanently from the platform, the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy reported in January 2021. Facebook never told Birch precisely what he had done to deserve banishment from the website. According to Birch, he logged into Facebook and was chatting with a friend using Facebook Messenger. “I was on my laptop and I accidentally sent a partial nude photo,” he said. “A few minutes later, I received an alert that Facebook blocked me.”
Birch asked Facebook to restore his account because he believed Facebook Messenger was private. “I sent this photo through a private Facebook message. I did not post it on Facebook,” Birch told the company. “The Facebook scanner detected it was inappropriate. I was banned from Facebook immediately. Please, I just want my account back.”
“I don’t use Facebook for porn,” Birch wrote in an email to Facebook. “All I use it for is to keep in contact with friends and family. I’ve had this account since my teen years and want to get all my photos and memories back. I also have several family members that I can only get in contact with through Facebook. This has been such a stressful five months. It was an accident and it won’t happen again. I never meant to send that photo. I miss my family and friends on Facebook. Please unblock my account.”
Facebook sent a series of what appeared to be automated responses, until finally after five months of begging the company to help him, it sent what seemed to be a definitive response:
We’ve determined that you are ineligible to use Facebook. To learn more about Facebook’s policies, please review the Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities:
Unfortunately, for safety and security reasons, we can’t provide additional information as to why your account was disabled. We appreciate your understanding, as this decision is final. (Facebook team)
Elliott Advocacy tried to help Birch. “Although we receive many requests for help concerning banned Facebook accounts, our track record for resolving these cases is zero,” the nonprofit stated. “In fact, Facebook, like other giant companies such as Amazon and eBay, typically ignores these types of inquiries from our team. It would seem that after these companies take the drastic step of banning a user, there is little to no appeal process. … And the unique nature of Facebook makes this type of case impossible to mediate.”
Elliott Advocacy cautions potential Facebook users that they are not “customers,” adding:
“[A]lthough Birch was outraged by the ‘terrible customer service’ he received from Facebook, he shouldn’t have been. Facebook is providing an online social community free of charge to the user. The Facebook Team is not a ‘customer service team,’ and users should not expect the type of personalized attention a complaint would receive from a company of which they are actually paying customers.
“When you sign up with Facebook, you agree to its terms and conditions. If you violate any of those terms, you can get banned — with no clear-cut methods of appealing the decision,” the nonprofit explained.
“Facebook doesn’t owe you an account. There are no current laws that require Facebook to allow anyone to participate. So there is very little on which our team could base a mediation attempt over a banned Facebook account. And, unfortunately, by Birch’s own admission, he had violated one of Facebook’s terms and conditions.”
The Events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021
Some were quick to accuse President Donald Trump of trying to overthrow the democratic process on January 6, 2021, as individuals bearing Trump campaign flags and paraphernalia ran amok in the United States Capitol while lawmakers were attempting to officially certify the results of the November 3, 2020 election. Mainstream media outlets reported without evidence that Trump had incited his supporters to interfere with the congressional proceeding.
Before the riot, during his address on the National Mall, Trump complained about social media censorship by Big Tech: “And just like the radical left tries to blacklist you on social media, every time I put out a tweet, even if it’s totally correct, totally correct. I get a flag. I get a flag. And they also don’t let you get out. On Twitter, it’s very hard to come on to my account. … if you’re a conservative, if you’re a Republican, if you have a big voice, I guess they call it shadow ban. Shadow ban. They shadow ban you and it should be illegal. I’ve been telling these Republicans get rid of Section 230.”
While the disturbance was in progress, Trump learned that individuals had found their way into the Capitol. He called upon them to back off in a recorded video, saying: “I know your pain. I know your hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt. It’s a very tough period of time. There’s never been a time like this, where such a thing happened, where they could take it away from all of us; from me, from you, from our country. This was a fraudulent election. But we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you, you’re very special, you’ve seen what happens, you see the way others are treated who are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home, and go home in peace.”
Few people saw the video. Facebook and other social media websites censored the video, accusing him of inciting violence in it. Facebook shut down his accounts.
Facebook said: “The violent protests in the Capitol today are a disgrace. We prohibit incitement and calls for violence on our platform. We are actively reviewing and removing any content that breaks these rules.”
Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of integrity, added: “This is an emergency situation and we are taking appropriate emergency measures, including removing President Trump’s video. We removed it because on balance we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence.”
Rosen said that Facebook was “appalled by the violence at the Capitol” and explained future steps the website would take to moderate related content, including deleting videos and photos from those who breached Capitol security.
On January 7, 2021, Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram indefinitely banned the sitting president of the United States, hindering his ability to communicate with the people who elected him. “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” Mark Zuckerberg said. “Therefore, we are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete.”
In a widely read tweet, model Emily Ratajkowski protested Trump being banned. “This gives Facebook/tech/Zuck THE MOST POWER. If he can shut the president up/off he can shut any of us up/off[.]”
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known popularly in his country as AMLO, said the efforts by Facebook and Twitter to boot Trump from their platforms was a “bad omen,” Bloomberg News reported January 8, 2021. Private companies deciding whom they should censor hurts freedom of speech, he said. “It’s like a censorship court is being created, like the Holy Inquisition, for the management of public opinion,” he said.
AMLO, who like Trump relies heavily on social media to get his message out to the public, dismissed Zuckerberg’s comment as “arrogant.” “He’s talking about his norms, but what about freedom and the right to information? What’s the role of legal and legitimately constituted authorities?” the Mexican president said. “We can’t allow one corporation that is the owner of Facebook, or of Twitter, decide who it can and who it can’t grant the possibility to communicate.”
The Facebook crackdown on Trump quickly expanded to Trump supporters and conservatives generally.
Facebook suspended the page of the WalkAway movement and banned individual accounts belonging to the group’s team, The Epoch Times reported on January 8, 2021. “Today my team and I all at the same time got messages notifying us that our accounts were banned and the Walkaway campaign group has been taken down as well—which had 508,000 people in it,” WalkAway founder Brandon Straka said. “All of my employees have been banned,” he continued. “All of my volunteers have been banned. Anyone connected with my organization was banned.” Straka said he expected the censorship of pro-Trump conservatives would likely “get worse,” adding: “My feeling right now is that this is a very ominous indication of what is to come under a Biden, [Kamala] Harris presidency.”
“Stop the Steal” Banned
In the period between January 6, 2021, and the January 20 presidential inauguration, Facebook helped Joe Biden by deciding to delete all content containing “stop the steal,” a phrase used by Trump supporters to question the integrity of the 2020 election. Facebook said it would nix content that “could incite further violence during these next few weeks.”
“We’ve been allowing robust conversations related to the election outcome and that will continue,” Facebook officials Guy Rosen and Monika Bickert claimed. “But with continued attempts to organize events against the outcome of the U.S. presidential election that can lead to violence, and use of the term by those involved in Wednesday’s violence in D.C., we’re taking this additional step in the lead up to the inauguration.”
Virginia State Senator Amanda Chase Banned
Facebook suspended the official account of a Virginia Republican State Senator Amanda F. Chase, a candidate for governor, after the self-described “Trump in heels” described the U.S. Capitol rioters as “patriots” while suggesting “antifa or BLM [Black Lives Matter] agents of destruction” were actually to blame, The Washington Post reported on January 8, 2021.
“These were not rioters and looters; these were Patriots who love their country and do not want to see our great republic turn into a socialist country. I was there with the people; I know. Don’t believe the fake media narrative,” Chase had written on Facebook.
Chase was prohibited from posting or commenting for 7 days, and from posting live video for 60 days, on her official Senate page. “Make no mistake, the liberal left who controls social media is systematically targeting vocal supporters of President Trump in an all-out, collaborative effort to silence our voices,” she stated. “Facebook has weaponized its community standards.”
By March 2021, Facebook had banned Chase permanently, according to Virginia Business.com. It is not clear what, if anything, prompted the permanent ban.
After multiple unsuccessful attempts by her campaign to get her official state Senate public page restored, Chase said she was thinking about filing a national class action lawsuit against Facebook on behalf of herself and others whose pages the social media site had interfered with because of content related to the events of January 6.
Chase said she felt “singled out” for her conservative politics, and that the ban had damaged her campaign for Virginia governor.
Facebook’s Oversight Board (a “Supreme Court” for Content-Moderation Rulings)
In response to complaints about unfair content-moderation, Facebook created a tribunal called an Oversight Board — i.e., a “Supreme Court” for content-moderation issues — that issued its first batch of rulings in January 2021. The rulings dealing with takedown decisions by content moderators, who reportedly work in “sweatshop” conditions, offer some insight into Facebook’s byzantine content-moderation process by which the company deletes posts, offering vague justifications for the censorship, or without explaining why.
Of the 5 decisions in the first series of rulings, 4 went against Facebook. The tribunal, called the Oversight Board, has its own funding stream independent of the company. Facebook has vowed to obey the Board’s rulings unless contrary to law and is not allowed to fire its members.
In September 2019, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled his plan to create the Board. “If someone disagrees with a decision we’ve made, they can appeal to us first, and soon they will be able to further appeal this to the independent board,” he wrote in a letter. “As an independent organization, we hope it gives people confidence that their views will be heard and that Facebook doesn’t have the ultimate power over their expression.”
Board members serve no more than three three-year terms each and are paid an undisclosed fee. The company is allowed to pursue an “automatic and expedited review” in exceptional circumstances, “when content could result in urgent real-world consequences,” such as, for example, if someone were live-streaming a murder.
The Board does not rely on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects free speech in the United States and instead references documents adopted by international bodies, such as the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
As of April 2021, at least two of the Board members worked at organizations funded by leftist billionaire George Soros. Those two members were: John Samples, vice president of the Cato Institute; and Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei, program manager for the Open Society Initiative for West Africa. Other notable members at that time included: Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former prime minister of Denmark where she led the left-wing Social Democrats; Stanford Law School professor Michael McConnell; Emi Palmor, advocate and lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel; and Tawakkol Karman, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate in Yemen.
In the only Oversight Board ruling dealing with a user from the United States, Case Decision 2020-005-FB-UA, the Board overturned Facebook’s decision to take down a post which the company said violated its Community Standard on Dangerous Individuals and Organizations. The post that the Board allowed mocked President Donald Trump.
- In October 2020, an unidentified user posted a quotation that the Board said was incorrectly attributed to Joseph Goebbels, the Reich minister of propaganda in Nazi Germany. The quotation, in English, claimed that, instead of appealing to intellectuals, arguments should appeal to emotions and instincts, and “that truth does not matter and is subordinate to tactics and psychology.” The user said that he or she intended to compare the sentiment in the quotation and the Trump presidency. The Board determined that the quotation “did not support the Nazi party’s ideology or the regime’s acts of hate and violence,” noting that the user’s friends treated the quotation as a statement criticizing Trump.
In another ruling from the same batch, Case Decision 2020-006-FB-FBR, the Oversight Board reversed a Facebook decision to take down a post that the company claimed “contributes to the risk of imminent… physical harm.” The Board held that Facebook’s misinformation and imminent harm rule (part of its Violence and Incitement Community Standard) was inappropriately vague and recommended that the company create a new Community Standard on health misinformation.
- In October 2020, the unidentified user had posted a video and accompanying text in the French language in a public Facebook group related to COVID-19. The post alleged a scandal at the Agence Nationale de Sécurité du Médicament (the French agency responsible for regulating health products), which refused to authorize hydroxychloroquine combined with azithromycin for use against COVID-19, but authorized and promoted remdesivir.
- The user criticized the lack of a health strategy in France and stated that the hydroxychloroquine-azithromycin combination, which the user called “[Didier] Raoult’s cure,” was being used to save lives. That drug combination, incidentally, was the same medical approach recommended by President Trump, an approach which had subjected Trump to widespread ridicule because some commentators and health professionals claimed that the cure was unproven even though medical doctors around the world claimed it was successful in treating COVID-19.
- The user was referring to the drug combination espoused by eminent French microbiologist Didier Raoult, who founded and runs the research hospital known as the Institut Hospitalo-Universitaire Méditerranée Infection, or IHU. The user’s post also questioned what society had to lose by letting physicians prescribe in an emergency a “harmless drug” when the first symptoms of COVID-19 appeared.
- Facebook deleted the post for violating its misinformation and imminent harm rule, which is part of its Violence and Incitement Community Standard, determining that the post contributed to the risk of imminent physical harm during a global pandemic. The company claimed allowing the post to remain could lead people to ignore health guidance or attempt to self-medicate.
The Board observed that the user’s post was opposing a governmental policy and aimed to change that policy. The combination of medicines that the post claimed constitute a cure were not available without a prescription in France and the content did not encourage people to buy or take drugs without a prescription. “Considering these and other contextual factors, the Board noted that Facebook had not demonstrated the post would rise to the level of imminent harm, as required by its own rule in the Community Standards,” the decision stated.
Facebook in the Post-Trump Era
On January 21, 2021, The Epoch Times reported that Facebook executive Nick Clegg had stated that the company would refer its recent decision to suspend former President Donald Trump’s account to the company’s Oversight Board for a complete review. “We believe our decision was necessary and right. Given its significance, we think it is important for the Board to review it and reach an independent judgment on whether it should be upheld,” Clegg said, adding that in the meantime the president’s “access will be suspended indefinitely.”
Almost three months later, the Board had failed to finalize the case, Politico reported on April 16, 2021. The Board said it needed to delay its ruling for several weeks because of immense public interest in the case.
New Oversight Board member Suzanne Nossel would not be part of deliberations over Trump’s case and would spend her first few weeks being trained for the post, Politico reported on April 20, 2021. Nossel, who heads PEN America, had written a January 27 op-ed for the Los Angeles Times arguing that Facebook’s silencing of Trump was a “testament to the staggering influence of Facebook and a few other media companies over public discourse.” I that piece, she noted that Facebook “cited no specific rule-breaking post” in banishing Trump after the January 6, 2021 security breach at the U.S. Capitol.
Nossel opined that Facebook had banned Trump for other reasons that it did not disclose. “The Facebook Oversight Board’s decision on the Trump case … will show whether that expulsion can be justified by something other than an impulse to appease angry users and butter up a new administration,” she wrote in the column.
Facebook hired Roy Austin, an Obama administration veteran and a member of President Joe Biden’s transition team, as the company’s vice president of civil rights and deputy general counsel, The Epoch Times reported on January 27, 2021. Austin had been a civil rights prosecutor and Department of Justice supervisor before becoming a deputy assistant to President Barack Obama in 2014.
Facebook was planning to reduce the amount of political content on the platform after complaints from users, The Epoch Times reported on January 28, 2021. “One of the top pieces of feedback we’re hearing from our community right now is that people don’t want politics and fighting to take over their experience on our services,” Zuckerberg said in a post. “We’re currently considering steps we could take to reduce the amount of political content in News Feed as well. We’re still working through exactly the best ways to do this.”
In late January 2021, MSNBC leftwing host Joe Scarborough urged the breakup of Facebook’s monopoly, stating that the website’s algorithms were designed to inflame public discussions and radicalize users: “Facebook is a monopoly. It controls over 50 percent of news gathering, and they are reckless as hell! There is no accountability! And they are destroying not just American democracy, they’re destroying democracy across the globe. They are actually working with tyrannical governments to help chase out freedom fighters in certain countries. They are a malignant force across the globe!”
Arguing that Americans should be able to sue Facebook, Scarborough also blamed the company for the security breach at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021: “Facebook has been spreading these lies that get cops killed! Facebook has been spreading these lies that gets the United States Capitol sacked! Facebook has been spreading these lies that get police officers bludgeoned almost to death with an American flag! They are anti-competitive. They are anti-democratic. They are bad for America.”
In February 2021, U.S. District Judge James Donato approved a $650 million settlement of a privacy lawsuit against Facebook for allegedly using photo face-tagging and other biometric data without obtaining permission from users. The class action lawsuit was filed in 2015 in Illinois. Nearly 1.6 million Facebook users in that state who filed claims were affected. Donato said it was one of the largest settlements ever for a privacy violation. “It will put at least $345 into the hands of every class member interested in being compensated,” he said, adding that it was “a major win for consumers in the hotly contested area of digital privacy.”
Conservative talk show host and comic Steven Crowder vowed on February 1, 2021, to sue Facebook in federal court for “unfair competition, fraud, false advertising, and antitrust,” The Epoch Times reported. “Facebook lured consumers and creators to spend money and provide data and views under the promise of not engaging in political, racial or religious bias in enforcing their policies, but they have done so both expressly and secretively, and hence, the suit,” according to Crowder’s website. In a YouTube clip, Crowder explained that his November 3, 2020 election livestream was cut off in the midst of his coverage. “They removed the biggest stream that has ever existed, from the biggest platform that’s ever existed, with no reason,” he said.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, sent back donations from Facebook because the company has censored conservatives, The Epoch Times reported on March 25, 2021. Outgoing foundation president Kay C. James sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explaining that her organization could “not in good conscience accept money” from companies that suppress conservative speech and content. In October 2020, Heritage rejected a $150,000 donation from Facebook, as well as a $225,000 donation from Google. “Heritage is in the midst of reviewing these proposals, and the last thing we need is for anyone to think that our conclusions have in any way been influenced by a relatively small donation from your company,” James wrote. “The Heritage Foundation has all too often fallen victim to Facebook’s double standard. Referrals to our Daily Signal news site, for example, have plunged from 600,000 sessions in July to a mere 105,000 so far in Oct.,” she wrote.
Facebook banned Donald Trump’s voice after banning him from using the website to communicate with the public, the BBC reported on April 1, 2021. Lara Trump, a newly hired Fox News contributor, posted on the website a video of herself interviewing Trump, her father-in-law. “In line with the block we placed on Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, further content posted in the voice of Donald Trump will be removed and result in additional limitations on the account,” Facebook said. “And just like that, we are one step closer to Orwell’s 1984. Wow,” Lara Trump said on Instagram.
A proposed class-action lawsuit accusing Facebook of violating a federal anti-robocall law may not go forward because the social media company’s unwanted text messages are not covered under federal law, the Supreme Court ruled on April 1, 2021, in Facebook Inc. v. Duguid. In 1991, Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), to curb perceived telemarketing abuses. The statute “restricts the making of telemarketing calls and the use of automatic telephone dialing systems and artificial or prerecorded voice messages,” according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and creates a private right of action for persons to sue to enjoin unlawful uses of autodialers and to recover up to $1,500 per violation or three times the plaintiffs’ actual monetary losses.
Plaintiff Noah Duguid sued Facebook, arguing that the company’s permissive interpretation of the statute would “unleash” a “torrent of robocalls” on the public. Duguid said he was overwhelmed by texts from Facebook in 2014 advising him of an attempted log-in, even though he did not have a Facebook account. Facebook denied responsibility, saying Duguid probably had a recycled phone number that used to be associated with an account.
Megan Iorio, counsel at the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the ruling would make things worse. “Many robocallers and would-be robocallers will interpret the court’s decision today as essentially abrogating the autodialer restriction, which will likely lead to a surge in unwanted automated calls to cell phones,” Iorio told reporters.
Data from more than 500 million Facebook users have been located on a website for hackers, The Epoch Times reported on April 4, 2021. Business Insider first reported on the data exposure that affected information from 106 countries, including telephone numbers, Facebook IDs, full names, locations, dates of birth, and email addresses. Facebook dismissed the report as old news, claiming: “We found and fixed this issue in August 2019.”
Data breaches at Facebook are alarmingly commonplace. The political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica accessed information on as many 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge or consent. In 2018 Facebook disabled the feature that had allowed this. In 2019 a Ukrainian security researcher reported the discovery of a database featuring the names, telephone numbers, and unique user IDs of upwards of 267 million Facebook users on the Internet.
The dictatorship in Communist China has become increasingly reliant on Facebook and Twitter to disseminate propaganda and disinformation in order to deflect international criticism of its ongoing persecution of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang, according to a report published by the think tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), The Epoch Times reported on April 12, 2021. The media outlet reported that the Chinese Communist Party “is committing genocide against Uyghurs in China’s far-western Xinjiang region, subjecting them to forced sterilization, forced abortion, torture, forced labor, and the removal of children from their families. Additionally, the communist regime has detained more than one million Uyghurs in internment camps. Beijing has defended these camps as ‘vocational training centers.’”
Facebook censors content that puts the Black Lives Matter movement in a bad light. On April 15, 2021, for example, Facebook blocked users from sharing a New York Post article about the big-spending lifestyle –specifically, of multiple pricey real estate purchases— of Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors. Facebook also blocked users from sharing a Daily Mail article on the real estate transactions.
FrontPageMag’s Daniel Greenfield pilloried Facebook for its hypocrisy: “Double standards and pervasive censorship of social media are the new normal. Facebook decided to go ahead and censor a New York Post story digging into the real estate deals of Patrisse Cullors, a BLM founder, because ‘the articles shared multiple details which could identify the residence of one of the BLM founders in violation of her privacy rights.’”
“BLM allies have repeatedly doxxed people on Facebook while facing zero consequences,” Greenfield added. “Invading people’s privacy rights has become the whole point of cancel culture. And the only time Facebook has a problem with it is when one of its political allies are affected. This whole thing is a repeat of the Hunter Biden censorship and for the same reasons.”
Facebook censored an April 14, 2021 post in which Tamika Palmer — mother of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old black woman killed by police in a bungled no-knock raid on March 13, 2020 — condemned the Black Lives Matter movement in Louisville, Kentucky. “’I have never personally dealt with BLM Louisville and personally have found them to be fraud,” Palmer wrote in the post that Facebook decided to censor. “I’ve watched ya’ll raise money on behalf of Breonna’s family who has never done a damn thing for us…talk about fraud,” Palmer added. “I could walk into a room full of people who claim to be here for Breonna’s family who don’t even know who I am…I’m so sick of some of y’all…I’m done with this shit enough is enough!!”
Facebook Oversight Board Upholds the Ban on Trump
On May 4, 2021, Facebook’s Oversight Board upheld the company’s decision to ban former President Trump. “Trump’s posts during the Capitol riot severely violated Facebook’s rules and encouraged and legitimized violence,” the Board said in a statement, adding that two of his posts in particular had “violated Facebook’s rules prohibiting praise or support of people engaged in violence.” the board said in its decision.
The Board also found that Facebook had acted inappropriately in terming the Trump suspension “indefinite.” “It is not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an undefined period, with no criteria for when or whether the account will be restored,” the Board said, adding: “In applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities. The Board declines Facebook’s request and insists that Facebook apply and justify a defined penalty.”
In response to the Oversight Board’s call for Facebook to set Trump’s suspension for a defined period of time, the company announced on June 4, 2021 that the suspension would last for at least two years. “We are suspending [Trump’s] accounts for two years, effective from the date of the initial suspension on January 7 this year,” said Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, in a blog post. Added Clegg: “We are today announcing new enforcement protocols to be applied in exceptional cases such as this, and we are confirming the time-bound penalty consistent with those protocols which we are applying to Mr. Trump’s accounts. Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr. Trump’s suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols.” Clegg also said that following the two-year suspension period, Facebook would consult with experts to determine whether the “risk to public safety has receded.” If they determined at that time that the risk was still present, they would extend the suspension in accordance with “a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions that will be triggered if Mr. Trump commits further violations in future, up to and including permanent removal of his pages and accounts.”
Court Dismisses Federal Government’s Antitrust Case Against Facebook
On June 28, 2021, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, an Obama appointee, dismissed a lawsuit in which the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sought to break up what it described as Facebook’s monopoly in the realm of social media networking. Claiming that FTC lawyers had failed to provide sufficient evidence that Facebook was in fact a monopoly, Boasberg wrote: “The FTC has failed to plead enough facts to plausibly establish a necessary element of all of its Section 2 claims—namely, that Facebook has monopoly power in the market for Personal Social Networking (PSN) Services. The complaint contains nothing on that score save the naked allegation that the company has had and still has a ‘dominant share of th[at] market (in excess of 60 percent).’” Asserting also that social networking “services are free to use, and the exact metes and bounds of what even constitutes a [social networking] … are hardly crystal clear,” the judge added: “The FTC’s inability to offer any indication of the metric(s) or method(s) it used to calculate Facebook’s market share renders its vague ‘60 percent-plus’ assertion too speculative and conclusory to go forward.”
The FTC also alleged that Facebook had violated antitrust laws by purchasing a would-be competitor.
In addition, Judge Boasberg struck down a separate lawsuit filed by the attorneys general of nearly every U.S. state, who challenged Facebook’s purchase of Instagram in 2012, and of WhatsApp in 2014. Boasberg ruled that the attorneys general had waited too long to file their suit.
Facebook Sends Messages to Some Users Asking About “Extremist” Friends
On July 1, 2021, The Epoch Times reported that some Facebook users had been receiving messages from the social media giant warning them about the potential threat of “extremist” elements around them. “Are you concerned that someone you know is becoming an extremist?” one message read. “We care about preventing extremism on Facebook. Others in your situation have received confidential support.” Other Facebook users received warnings that they may have been “exposed to harmful extremist content recently,” and that “violent groups try to manipulate your anger and disappointment.” All of the Facebook messages provided an on-screen button that users could click to “Get Support.” That button led to another Facebook page about extremism.
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to The Epoch Times that Facebook was indeed running the warnings to some users as a test. “This test is part of our larger work to assess ways to provide resources and support to people on Facebook who may have engaged with or were exposed to extremist content, or may know someone who is at risk,” said the spokesperson. “We are partnering with NGOs and academic experts in this space and hope to have more to share in the future.”
Facebook Is Sued by Former President Trump
On July 7, 2021, former President Donald Trump announced that he, as the lead plaintiff, was launching, on behalf of the victims of “cancel culture,” a class action lawsuit against Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Specifically, Trump said he was demanding the end of “shadow banning” and “blacklisting,” and that “we are asking the court to impose punitive damages on these social media giants.” “There is no better evidence that big tech is out of control than the fact that they banned the sitting President of the United States earlier this year, a ban that continues to this day,” he added.
In a speech he delivered at the annual CPAC conference on July 11, 2021, Trump said the following about his lawsuit:
“We are suing Facebook, Twitter, and Google…. In addition to their malicious attacks on free speech, these Silicon Valley tyrants are also attacking our democracy itself. The big tech election interference in 2020 was an outrageous assault upon our Republic and upon the American voter. Terrible thing has happened to our country. We’re being laughed at all over the world. Our election has been studied by other countries. They’re not going to do it that way. Mark Zuckerberg alone spent $ 400 million dollars on election meddling. In virtually all of the key swing states, he funded unmanned and unprotected drop boxes that were deployed in Democrat run cities and heavily Democrat precincts to scoop up ballots which were supposedly 94, 95, 96% for Joe Biden, because he campaigned so well from his basement. […]
“At the same time, the big tech giants worked together to suppress and diminish news coverage that was negative for Joe Biden. Look at all these stories that came up, and they were wiped out. Anything negative for Biden or the radical left Democrats, they just suppressed. And the most horrendous example, the oldest newspaper in America, and one of my favorites. It’s a great one. The New York Post broke one of the biggest scandals ever to emerge in a presidential election, providing extraordinarily detailed evidence of the corruption of Joe Biden and … Hunter Biden. […] Then without any basis whatsoever, Twitter and Facebook banned the New York Post’s account of this terrible story. After the election, one poll showed that at least 10% of Joe Biden’s voters would have switched their vote if they had known about Joe and Hunter Biden’s scandals, enough to flip the results of numerous states. […] The truth was covered up, and it had a giant impact on the election.”
The Biden Administration Admits Its Collaboration with Facebook & Social Media Giants, Meaning That They Are Government Actors
At a July 15, 2021 press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the Biden administration was actively identifying “problematic” posts for Facebook to censor or purge because they contained “misinformation” about COVID-19. “We are in regular touch with the social media platforms,” she stated, “and those engagements typically happen through members of our senior staff and also members of our COVID-19 team — given [that] this is a big issue, of misinformation, specifically on the pandemic.” “We’ve increased disinformation research and tracking within the Surgeon General’s Office,” Psaki added. “We are flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation.” “Facebook,” in turn, “needs to move more quickly to remove harmful violative posts,” said Psaki.
At the same press briefing, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said “we’re asking [social media companies] to consistently take action against misinformation superspreaders on their platforms.” “Misinformation takes away our freedom to make informed decisions about our health and the health of our loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added. “Health misinformation has led people to resist wearing masks in high-risk settings. It’s led them to turn down proven treatments and to choose not to get vaccinated. This has led to avoidable illnesses and deaths.”
The New York Post noted that Psaki’s and Murthy’s professed concern about “misinformation” could be used — by the government and its social-media allies — as a pretext for censoring free speech and silencing all dissent — even if the dissidents were in fact correct in what they were saying:
“The demand for censorship — and Psaki’s admission of government involvement — follows a series of flip-flops from health officials who contradicted themselves throughout the pandemic on issues such as mask efficacy, as well as censorship of claims that later gained credibility, such as the theory that COVID-19 leaked from a Chinese lab…. Facebook this year stopped censoring posts that claimed COVID-19 may have emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China due to “evolving” information that bolstered the theory. Social media networks have censored other posts before backtracking — notably including Facebook and Twitter censoring The Post’s reporting in October on documents from a laptop formerly belonging to Hunter Biden that appeared to link his father to business pursuits in China and Ukraine.
John Coale, the attorney who was in the midst of filing lawsuits against Facebook, Twitter, and Google on behalf of Donald Trump, said that the Trump lawsuits would ultimately prove that the tech companies “are government actors” and that “therefore, the First Amendment does apply” — i.e., it requires them to permit freedom of speech without censorship that is supposedly rooted in a desire to stop “misinformation.”