The Great Social Media Purge of 2018
Back in the ancient news cycle of August 6, 2018, Alex Jones, host of The Alex Jones Show and curator of Infowars.com, was deplatformed in a coordinated effort by multiple social media and content streaming services. The list of companies, whose simultaneity was surely a coincidence, is quite impressive: Facebook, Apple, YouTube, Spotify, Vimeo, Pinterest, MailChimp, and LinkedIn. The debate on free speech versus hate speech raged on for the customary week or two as the news cycle dictated, with many libertarians and conservatives willing to leave Jones to the proverbial wolves. Perhaps Alex Jones wasn’t an attractive enough martyr for the cause. But to those who stood on principle against these social media giants, this was a sign of things to come. Editors for the Free Thought Project spoke out against such censorship on the grounds that it may only be Alex Jones today, but FTP would be next.
How right they were.
At thefreethoughtproject.com, Matt Agorist wrote, “What makes this recent purge from Facebook and Twitter so egregious is that the pages like the Free Thought Project, the Anti-Media, Press for Truth, and dozens of others, did not fit the hate speech narrative these same companies used to wipe out Alex Jones. Instead, these pages were dedicated to spreading peace, bridging the divide, bringing humanity together and holding government accountable.”
It’s true that Jones has made more than his share of controversial statements, including claiming that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 was a hoax, but this kind of controversy does not follow sites such as the Free Thought Project; Facebook even admitted they were not targeted for promoting violence or spreading “fake news.”
So what were the determining factors that led to this round of deplatformings? According to a statement co-authored by Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Nathaniel Gleicher, the 559 pages and 251 accounts purged had, “consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior.” The statement continues, “This inauthentic behavior consists of sensational political content, regardless of its political slant, to build an audience and drive traffic to their websites…posting in dozens of Facebook Groups, often hundreds of times in a short period, to drum up traffic for their websites.”
As Caitlin Johnstone wrote at Medium.com, Nathaniel Gleicher is also the former White House National Security Council Director of Cybersecurity Policy.
What a small world!
Is there any truth to Facebook’s claims about “inauthentic activity”? It’s easy to become instantly enraged by the censorship, considering that it appears to be punishing alternative media groups for “driving traffic to their websites.”
This hardly seems like an egregious sin. And if consistently applied, would this standard not also include major news outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News?
Additionally, the deplatformings seem conspicuously coordinated, as a number of affected organizations found their accounts suspended all at once, one the same day, on multiple social media sites.
There is some logic to Gleicher’s explanation, but Facebook’s application of its rules has been wildly inconsistent. People rushed to share tales of the purge, showing account holder screenshots with multiple banned pages and profiles. Unfortunately, it’s the operation of so many pages and accounts by the same individuals that possibly got them caught in this little sting operation. When users were identified as sharing their clickbait in “dozens of groups, hundreds of times over a short period,” they were attempting to game the system by boosting likes and shares in an attempt to drive themselves higher in news feeds. An issue with consistency notwithstanding, this sort of activity is considered spam and inauthentic behavior by Facebook. They are hardly the first to adhere to such a policy. Reddit.com bans users who are found to operate multiple accounts in order to up-vote the submissions by their primary account.
To be clear, I am not criticizing indie media for doing everything they can to spread their message. Those of us in the liberty community will remember Congressman Ron Paul and his foreign policy warnings against “blowback,” — the CIA-coined term for the unintended retaliation for U.S. foreign interventions. But blowback is not limited to the world of foreign policy; it’s also a social phenomenon. When Facebook made drastic changes to its algorithm crippling the reach of alternative media and independent content creators, it prompted these same creators to find ways to circumvent the algorithms. This kind of “throttling” is nothing new. The Gold Standard with Alan Mosley once enjoyed a reach of over 70,000 for its updates and episodes, even without any budget for Facebook Ads. These numbers were common as recently as May, but even with the purchase of Facebook Ads, results have been catastrophically lower since June. Now The Gold Standard is fortunate to receive a quarter of the reach, even though it sports all-time highs in likes and follows.
So what will the community-at-large do in response to this latest social media purge?
Sure, there were some that rushed to defend Alex Jones, but many more decided to put their momentary e-safety far above the principle of defending free speech. But those of us who believe in the free market should put our money where our mouths are. There is more than just circumstantial evidence to suggest that many of the major media outlets are coordinated, both with each other and Big Brother, to silence dissenting voices. When you read an article, listen to a podcast, or watch a video, make sure to like/share/subscribe to the original feed in order to keep them in the public view despite the reproach of the elite. Better yet, follow these content creators to their new destinations, and prepare to unplug from outlets that don’t respect your freedom to choose what information to consume.