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    US State Department Cheers Facebook Ban on 'Inauthentic' Pages

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    The US State Department applauded Facebook's decision to remove pages "orchestrated from abroad, that foment division and violence inside the United States," according to a Wednesday statement.

    Anti-fascist organizers in Charlottesville, Virginia and local activists in Washington, DC have slammed the ban as "blatant, blanket censorship."

    "We applaud Facebook’s decision to expunge accounts, orchestrated from abroad, that foment division and violence inside the United States," the State Department said, falling shy of fingering Russia as the perpetrator behind the most recent ban, which included 32 pages and accounts on Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. "These efforts are part of a broader external campaign aimed at weakening America and threatening our way of life by pitting citizens against each other and sowing discord in general."

    Facebook did not offer any suggestion as to who was behind the accounts, but noted that their activities were consistent with accounts banned prior operated by the allegedly Kremlin-run Internet Research Agency (IRA). 

    Several lawmakers have pointed their fingers at Russia this time around. The State Department said "We demand that Russia and all other malign actors immediately cease this reckless behavior."

    One of the pages caught up in the ban was called "Resisters" and had a one-time administrator (for a total of seven minutes) who was previously alleged to have been linked to the IRA. Because that group was an admin on a Facebook event page planning a protest against a rally being held on the anniversary of deadly fascistic violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, Facebook shut down the event, sparking cries of censorship from local DC activists who were using the page to organize. According to the new event page, 35 American activist groups have endorsed the rally.

    ​Facebook's ban was "essentially censoring the work of an entire coalition of real organizers fighting for a better world," the activist group Solidarity C'ville wrote in a statement. "Charlottesville groups who resisted and continue to resist Unite The Right’s impact on our city stand in solidarity with DC organizers who have been hampered by this act of blatant, blanket censorship!"

    Notice Facebook sent to users that RSVP'd to the No Unite the Right 2 - DC protest.
    Facebook
    Notice Facebook sent to users that RSVP'd to the "No Unite the Right 2 - DC" protest.

    "It is incredibly insulting that mainstream media has taken Facebook’s act of censorship as an excuse to reduce the real traumas of August 11 and 12 to 'Russian interference' or 'bots'," the group said." The organizers of the Unite the Right 2.0 rally have a "white supremacist ideology," the group said, that "was informed by centuries of homegrown violence against black and indigenous people and migrants… Just as white supremacy is rooted in US history, so is the movement to end it and create a free world."

    Screenshot of the protest cancelled by Facebook.
    Facebook
    Screenshot of the protest cancelled by Facebook.

    Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), Vice Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the "disclosure is further evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division and spread disinformation, and I am glad that Facebook is taking some steps to pinpoint and address this activity," on Tuesday.

    The State Department is far from the only official government organ to chime in. "Russians and other nation states are absolutely attempting to manipulate us," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen said in a Fox News interview on Tuesday, adding that Facebook should be "commended" for shining a light on the "very real" threat.

    ​Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, seems to have countered the very real meme threat from Russia with memes of his own, apparently in an effort to fight fire with fire. "Some feel that we as a society are sitting in a burning room, calmly drinking a cup of coffee, telling ourselves 'this is fine.' That's not fine," he said.

    ​Sputnik News used the Internet Archive on Tuesday to review posts made by the Resisters page that were not disclosed by Facebook. In all of the posts publicly highlighted by Facebook or otherwise, none made reference to the 2018 midterm elections. Nonetheless, a number of mainstream media outlets have spun Facebook's ban as thwarting a Russian effort to influence the midterms.

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