Facebook groups – private and public – have in the past been praised by major media outlets for allowing activists to connect and organize in large numbers in many countries around the world, including in the US, such as for the “Women’s March” protest of early 2017.
Anti-quarantine activists of the current coronavirus crisis, on the other hand, are by no means viewed with the same amount of benevolence – quite the opposite.
In the US state of Michigan, those opposed to continued coronavirus lockdowns are organizing for another round of protests this coming weekend, Detroit-based Metro Times reports.
The article’s headline suggests that serious violence might be in the offing, as protesters will be armed – and are also making threats on Facebook against Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
The report then goes on to say that the media outlet managed to infiltrate four private groups on Facebook, coming back with screenshots of messages that are “promoting violence and mobilizing armed rallies” against Whitmer. Coronavirus-related conspiracy theories and disinformation are blamed for these attitudes – at least, according to the outlet.
However, the drama of the article and its headline dissipates quite a bit when it is mentioned that the four private Facebook groups which have been “accessed” by Metro Times have 400,000 members in total – but that, by the newspaper’s own admission, only “dozens” among them are actually posting threatening messages.
But regardless of the huge discrepancy here between the overall number of members, and those few “behaving badly” in these groups – when the newspaper flagged the messages, Facebook decided to delete the entire group.
“We will remove any other violations as we continue our review,” Facebook added.
In Europe, such language as quoted in the controversial posts by “dozens of angry Michiganders” is criminalized – but not so in the US.
This is something recognized by Whitmer in January – when Metro Times “chronicled another Facebook page that was rife with sexism, Islamophobia, and threats against Whitmer” (the paper really seems to have the governor’s back.)
Whitmer at the time sent a letter to Facebook, saying that as a lawyer she respects the First Amendment – but that she’s aware Facebook doesn’t have to.
“Better enforcement of Facebook’s own community standards – where ‘attacks’ are defined as, ‘violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation’ – this election cycle is needed now more than ever. Mine is not a singular ask,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, digital rights group EFF’s general advice on Facebook Groups is, “If you are discussing sensitive issues, it may be better to consider other tools or sites that make security and privacy a priority.”