‘A Pound of Flesh’: Facebook’s Provides Little Explanation for Anti-Fascist Takedown

Even as it claimed to have done so to guard against accounts promoting violence, Facebook has refused to provide evidence behind the elimination of pages belonging to several news organizations that post anti-fascist content.

The platform removed Facebook pages for the websites It’s Going Down (IGD) and Crimethinc — as well as several other groups and journalists who routinely cover protests — as part of an action it said targeted “groups and Instagram accounts tied to offline anarchist groups that support violent acts amidst protests,” along with militia-related groups and groups pushing the QAnon conspiracy theory.

However, Facebook’s announcement on August 19 2020 conflated all three types of content:

For militia organizations and those encouraging riots, including some who may identify as Antifa, we’ve initially removed over 980 groups, 520 Pages and 160 ads from Facebook. We’ve also restricted over 1,400 hashtags related to these groups and organizations on Instagram.

A Facebook spokesperson told us that only a small minority of the removed content was anti-fascist or anarchist in nature, and that while the platform had not banned “Antifa” — the blanket term for anti-fascist demonstrators that has been co-opted by right-wing politicians as a boogeyman — some of the groups and pages that were removed may have identified themselves as anti-fascist.

The spokesperson did not, however, respond to our question asking what specific content from IGD and Crimethinc, as well as the Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front, promoted Facebook to remove their respective pages.

Reached via email, IGD told us that Facebook never alerted the website about potential violations of its terms of service and was not given the chance to appeal the platform’s decision.

“It’s our belief that Facebook wasn’t interested in banning IGD and other anarchist/antifascist news platforms and groups, but they were pushed to do so as a ‘pound of flesh’ for hundreds of Qanon and far-Right accounts; accounts which surely would pull for Trump in 2020 — and we know how much the Trump campaign has put importance into their online digital troll soldiers,” IGD told us in a statement.

The site, which reports on not only anti-fascist actions but activity by white nationalist groups as well as anarchist-related content, released a separate joint statement with Crimethink following the sudden Facebook ban:

The defining of violence is not neutral. The way Facebook defines violence, it is legitimate for police to kill a thousand people per year while evicting, kidnapping, and imprisoning millions—it is legitimate to drop bombs on civilians, so long as the aggressor represents an official government—but it is “violence” to prevent a white supremacist from assaulting a crowd or return a tear gas canister to the police who shot it. Suppressing the voices of those who seek to protect their communities from institutional and white supremacist violence is an intentional decision to normalize violence as long as the ones employing it hold institutional power.

It is similarly unclear what led to the removal of the PNW Youth Liberation Front, which drew attention for its actions during an ongoing series of protests in Portland against extrajudicial killings by police; its Twitter account had more than 33,000 followers as of August 21, 2020 — a vast increase from the 11,000 or so followers listed in a June 2020 story on the group in the Portland Oregonian:

A post purported to be by the PNW Youth Liberation Front is published on Radical Guide, a website meant to catalog and highlight radical leftist groups and individuals, as well as their actions and art.

The stated goals on the post range from calling for an end to militarized weapons by police, to taxing the wealthy, to increased funding for a reformed school system.

A statement and petition from AnarchistAgency.com says that these bans appear to be part of a larger effort to curb human rights protests across the United States and an attack on Americans’ right to free speech and freedom of assembly:

At a time when demonstrations have played an essential role in creating a nationwide dialogue about racism, violence, and oppression, we see Facebook’s ban on anarchist publishers in the context of the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to clamp down on protest. For months, Donald Trump has explicitly blamed anarchists for the countrywide wave of protest precipitated by persistent police violence in the United States. A decade ago, Facebook representatives proudly touted their role in the horizontal social movements that toppled tyrants in Egypt and elsewhere. Today, their decision to ban publishers who provide a venue for participants in protests shows that they are taking their cues about what should constitute acceptable speech from those at the top of the power structure.

Facebook’s decision is part of a pattern that will go much further if we don’t respond. Readers deserve to be able to hear voices from within protest movements against police brutality and racism, even controversial ones. Authors and publishers should not be suppressed for promoting solidarity and self-determination.

Besides not saying why the groups’ content was struck from the platform, Facebook also did not answer when we asked if the company’s vice president of global public policy Joel Kaplan — who has been cited as the person responsible for the right-wing blog Check Your Fact’s inclusion in Facebook’s fact-checking partnership program and also reportedly intervened on behalf of other right-wing bloggers debunked by another fact-checker — was involved in the decision to remove anti-fascist content.

Update 8/21/2020, 6:33pm: Clarified that several groups were affected rather than just three; added link to AnarchistAgency.com statement and petition. –bb