The Government Accountability Project, which bills itself as a leader in whistleblower protection, including advocacy and litigation, has announced a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request aimed at shedding light on alleged censorship involving online posts concerning the Norfolk Southern train derailment.
The accident happened in East Palestine, Ohio, in early February 2023, and attracted attention online considering that as many as 38 train cars loaded with “hazardous” materials were involved – and some of them kept burning for several days. Finally extinguishing these poisonous flames brought trouble – the fumes released prompted the authorities to evacuate people from within a mile radius.
It was pretty serious and it’s not entirely clear as in all the pertinent information – so, it’s something people might well be expected to try to learn more about and discuss online, in this day and age.
Well, not so fast. Facebook (Meta) was, according to the Government Accountability Project, fairly quick to try to suppress – by means of deleting or flagging – posts that raised the issue of possible health risks related to the derailment.
Another thing that ended up derailed here, the FOIA filing suspects and wants clarified, may have been the proper democratic process where the government keeps its citizens informed and aware.
However, the FOIA requests suspect the opposite has happened – namely, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Facebook engaging in “communication” – which eventually saw posts from personal accounts, and the “East Palestine Off the Rails” page, censored.
The need for information sought via the request to be revealed is explained by whistleblower and scientist Scott Smith “(discovering) elevated dioxin levels in East Palestine” – and then when posting about it on Facebook, only to get his “public figure” account flagged.
Resident Jami Rae Wallace previously tagged him as she was sharing a link to a mainstream media article.
Prior to that, the advocacy group says Wallace “received a text from Mark Durno, EPA Region 5 leader on the ground and Homeland Security Advisor, telling her to remove her Facebook post where she posted to think critically about answers the EPA was giving residents regarding their health.”
Facebook was not sure about the merit of any of this – but Facebook apparently no longer errs on the side of its own rules.
“This post may go against our guidelines on suggested content,” the notice said. Facebook also showed that its “guidelines” may now be next-level nonsensical: “This post may show content that is broadly disliked,” the note further stated.
At least Scott Smith seems to be able to put together a non-Orwellian newspeak sentence or two, to argue his case:
“Anyone who cares about their constitutional rights and free speech needs to pay attention to what is happening in East Palestine, Ohio. That is why we need EPA records to shine light on any coordination with Facebook to suppress the free sharing of information on what is currently happening to residents there. The government should not be serving as a mechanism of censorship to protect multi-billion-dollar corporations.”
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