Article by Alejandro Alvarez
WASHINGTON — Local organizers are pushing back after Facebook deleted an event page dedicated to counter-protests against the upcoming Unite the Right 2 rally.
On Tuesday, Facebook announced it had purged 32 accounts and pages for exhibiting “inauthentic behavior” consistent with a coordinated disinformation campaign. One of those pages, “Resisters,” created the Facebook event invite which became pivotal to counterprogramming against white nationalist Jason Kessler’s Charlottesville redux on August 12.
Days later, Washington-area organizers are pushing back against perceptions that their protest is spearheaded by “bad actors.” They insisted Resisters played no role beyond creating the page, which local organizers eventually took over.
“Local D.C. organizers have done all the legwork and used the page for legitimate protest organizing and promotion,” said Smash Racism D.C., one of several D.C.-area groups pulling together the protests. “The Resisters had no say in it. Nor did any sort of ‘Russian agent.’ Facebook’s removal of the page in question is censorship against the real movement against white supremacy and fascism. “
Which are pretty standard things to do for activists. FB shouldn’t take the political legitimacy out of local communities which they did by deleting the event
— Dylan Petrohilos (@dpetrohilos) August 1, 2018
Though the tech giant stopped short of blaming Russia, it said some of the banned pages had displayed similar behavior to the Internet Research Agency — an Russian company engaged in shadowy online influence operations, with alleged ties to the Kremlin. A known IRA account once briefly held administrator privileges on the Resisters page, Facebook said.
Despite concluding its findings were “insufficient to support a firm determination” of the culprit, some news outlets still ran with headlines firmly implicating Russia. In response, activists were quick to accuse both the media and Facebook of writing off legitimate local efforts pulling together the counter-protests.
“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,’” read a joint statement signed by 13 Charlottesville-based groups involved in organizing protests against the first Unite the Right last year.
“This reality is what the DC and Charlottesville organizers are fighting against, and any attempt to censor us in the name of ‘digital security’ is a cheap and dishonest effort to hide the deep roots of white supremacy in the US,” the groups said.
It’s unclear what evidence FB had to take such an action, but the damage has been done by the news in reporting this event as though it was an attempt at foreign influence when the majority of news orgs made no attempt to check in with local activists to see if it was legit.
— no pasarán (@notmynypd) August 1, 2018
On Tuesday, Facebook told TechCrunch that it had reached out to the event page’s legitimate organizers with the following message:
We haven’t been able to connect on the phone yet, but I did want to make sure you know that earlier today we removed a Facebook event that you are listed as a co-host of, “No Unite the Right 2 — DC”, because one the Pages that created the event, “Resisters”, has been removed from Facebook because [it] was created by someone establishing an inauthentic account that has been associated with coordinated inauthentic behavior.
I understand this may be surprising or frustrating. We are reaching out to make sure you have the relevant information and understand that this has nothing to do with you or your Page. Later today, we’ll begin providing information about the event deletion to the approximately 2,600 users who indicated their interest in the event, and the 600 plus users that said they’d attend. If you are interested in setting up another event, we would be happy to include details about it in our public communications.
Andrew Batcher, a Washington-based organizer with Shut It Down DC, told TechCrunch that most of the event’s organizers did not receive this correspondence from Facebook — instead, some said they received a two-line about scheduling a phone call regarding the event page.
Shut It Down D.C., a coalition of over 30 local organizers including Black Lives Matter D.C. and Resist This (the successor to DisruptJ20), slammed Facebook for dismissing legitimate efforts as a Russian hoax, and noted “weeks” of community organizing to prove otherwise.
“We’ve since created a new Facebook event but we know real organizing comes from talking with our neighbors, and that this is a real protest in D.C.,” the coalition said on its recreated Facebook page. “It is not George Soros, it is not Russia, it is just us.”