by Derrick Broze, Activist Post:
Victims of Facebook’s most recent purge should not forget the connections between the social media giant and the Western Military-Industrial Complex.
On Thursday, Facebook announced they were unpublishing, or purging, over 500 pages and 200 accounts who are accused of spreading political spam. Several of these pages and writers were also removed from Twitter on the same day.
“Today, we’re removing 559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior,” Facebook stated in a blog post. Facebook states that the people behind this alleged spam “create networks of Pages using fake accounts or multiple accounts with the same names” and “post the same clickbait posts in dozens of Facebook Groups.”
Essentially, Facebook is accusing these pages of writing articles related to politics and then using the social media platform to…. post the articles in as many places as possible to reach as many people as possible. Hardly dangerous or scary stuff. However, these actions are in violation of Facebook’s Terms of Service. Facebook also accused the pages and accounts of using their fake accounts to generate fake likes and shares which may artificially inflate their reach and mislead people about their popularity. According to Facebook, “This activity goes against what people expect on Facebook, and it violates our policies against spam.”
Facebook also stated that “sensational political content” from across the political spectrum is being used to “build an audience and drive traffic to their websites, earning money for every visitor to the site.” Again, this does not qualify as dangerous or threatening activity. This is a standard practice for most media outlets who are trying to earn revenue to pay writers, editors, social media managers, etc. It is true that some of the pages on this list (see below for a current list) have indeed used clickbait headlines or even posts that are likely untrue. However, the list also includes legitimate independent news outlets such as The Anti-Media, The Free Thought Project, Cop Block, and Police the Police, which focused on countering mainstream and establishment narratives related to politics and police.
Facebook’s statement that the pages and accounts were “often indistinguishable from legitimate political debate” begs the question – which pages and accounts are “legitimate political debate”? and by which metric does Facebook decide what counts as legitimate? These questions are yet to be answered. Perhaps with time Facebook will come clean about their process, but in the meantime it’s important to reflect on Facebook’s recent partnership with the Atlantic Council and attempts to stifle the flow of information in the name of fighting “fake news.”
The fight against Fake News started immediately following the election of Donald Trump. In November 2016, Merrimack College associate professor Melissa Zimdars posted a public Google document titled, “False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical ‘News’ Sources” which went viral after being reported on by most corporate mainstream outlets. This list lumped in some of the same outlets which fell victim to Facebook’s most recent purge with actual fake news websites which are well known among the indy and alt media industry. Within a matter of weeks, a new list appeared online from an organization calling itself PropOrNot, an allegedly independent group of researchers trying to find the truth about the dissemination of Russian propaganda and fake news. This list also contained names of prominent independent media outlets like The Anti-Media, The Corbett Report, MintPress News, and many others.
It was this combination of the Zimdars list and the PropOrNot list which had the immediate effect of placing a target on the vast majority of independent journalists and outlets who were now being accused of directly or indirectly conspiring with the Russians. Websites and social media pages for these outlets began suffering a drastic reduction in reach and interaction with their audiences and many websites lost access to Google advertising money due to these false associations.
The problem is that the majority of the mainstream media unquestionably reported on and repeated the claims made by these two lists without any attempt at investigative work. For example, PropOrNot claims they are “completely independent” and “nonpartisan” because they are not funded by anyone and have no formal institutional affiliations or political connections. They say the must remain anonymous for now because they are a “are civilian Davids taking on a state-backed adversary Goliath.” However, a report by Russian news outlet Sputnik (yes, I am aware many readers will automatically scream, “Fake news!”, but I encourage you to read on.) challenges the alleged unbiased nature of PropOrNot.