Social media platforms are finally taking a step to fact check posts and remove pages that promote violence or white supremacy. But their guidelines for controlling content are blurred, and independent media is caught in the political crossfire.
Facebook is cracking down on right-wing conspiracy groups such as QAnon. The social media company is also removing leftist independent media outlets too, especially those who consider themselves anarchists or report on antifa. In response, an Oregon-based independent publisher, CrimethInc., and dozens of other platforms are now speaking out about the company’s lack of transparency and guidelines when it comes to removing pages.
Shane Burley is an Portland-based author and expert on anti-facist movements. He says this is likely happening because the Republican Party has moved further right. When Facebook silences QAnon groups, it also silences some Republicans. He explains that targeting anarchist and antifa media groups is their way of bringing balance.
“In targeting conservatives they have to give something. Antifa has been a known bohemian, so that’s an easy target for them,” Burley says. He adds the part that worries him is that anything that borders ethical boundaries or illegality are often labeled antifa, whether or not it’s true.
And drawing the line between who is and isn’t a journalist is becoming increasingly difficult in the rise of citizen journalists. Burley says there are many people covering the Portland protests; the police justify targeting them because they are not real journalists.
“They aren’t seen as being legitimate press. But they are doing major documentation for big press,” he says. “Anyone has access to the same technology and platform as the major press does.”
CrimethInc. has been around since the mid 1990s, reporting on anarchy and antifa news. Burley describes it as being a part of the century-old idea of a leftist political paper. It’s Going Down, a national group and publication with thousands of readers, was also among the independent media sites removed. The statement from Facebook alleges that the organizations are “tied to violence” or “have individual followers with patterns of violent behavior.”
It’s Going Down spokesperson Mike Andrews says Facebook is trying to deal with the reality of violence and rebellion and figure out where it comes from.
“Autonomous groups are not going out and killing people; they are trying to organize people,” Andrews says. He adds that their analysis is that Facebook itself doesn’t necessarily care as much, but that lobbyists in Washington D.C. advocated for some “equality” in taking off groups from both sides of the political spectrum so that independent media organizations had to take the fall.
“It shows that they were basically handed a list of groups they wanted taken off,” he says.
In order to justify removing groups from Facebook, the media giant reworked their terms of service in a way that Andrews says “is basically a way to kick anyone out.” Agency is a group that promotes contemporary anarchist discussions and perspectives. Its spokesperson, Scott Crow, says it’s difficult to mitigate or effect change for the attack on these groups because there is no way to know Facebook’s procedures for taking the groups down.
He says that the whole situation is agenda-driven, but not transparent. Unlike the government or other public entities, Facebook isn’t required to produce records about its procedures. And there is a misunderstanding of what these groups advocate or organize for.
“Anarchists and antifa are not talking about the murder of people,” Crow says. “That is not antifa or anarchists. Why would we not be able to use a corporate media platform like anyone else?”