from the really? dept
Mark Gray spotted an interesting tidbit buried in a Washington Post story about online activism among Trumpist supporters. Most of the story is the usual stuff about how propagandists are finding each other and organizing movements online. There is some of the usual hand-wringing that is standard in these stories about how social media is “enabling” this kind of activity, though it also notes that users very quickly migrated to other welcoming sites (and, also, how they’ve figured out ways to sneak back onto the bigger platforms):
The mainstream tech companies? crackdown on Trump and his followers helped splinter that vast network, researchers have found, without fundamentally weakening it. Influencers kicked off Facebook or Instagram ported followers to the lightly-policed app Telegram or right-wing YouTube rival Rumble, but they?ve also found ways to get back on the mainstream platforms by creating new accounts or using alternate language to avoid detection.
But later, the article claims that Facebook has a policy to shut down any account of anyone charged in the January 6th insurrection:
Alan Hostetter, a former local police chief and yoga teacher as well as a speaker at the June rally attended by The Post, was indicted on a charge of his alleged role in the insurrection June 10. Shortly after, he went back on Facebook Live, YouTube, Spotify, Rumble and several other services, filming himself walking on the beach in San Clemente in a ?Free Man” baseball cap. He decried the Jan. 6 riot as a ?false flag staged event? and a ?fakesurrection? because he believed infiltrators were in the crowd.
Within hours, his accounts were banned on Facebook and Instagram. Facebook says that it does not allow people charged in the insurrection on the platform and that it may fact-check claims that the riot was staged. Spotify and YouTube removed the videos a week later.
That part I’ve bolded is news to me — and quite interesting. We’ve talked somewhat about how off-platform activities are increasingly coming under scrutiny by platforms in their content moderation/trust and safety efforts, but this is the first I’ve heard of any platform (let alone Facebook) having a blanket policy of refusing to allow those charged in the January 6th attack from using their platform.
At the very least, this does raise some questions. Since it’s just based on charging, and not on conviction, what happens if the charges are dropped or the person is acquitted? That may be unlikely with many (if not all) of the January 6th folks, but it does raise some questions. And is the ban permanent? So far, the initial January 6th cases, against those who didn’t seem to do that much once in the Capitol, have involved relatively mild sanctions. Will that also include a lifetime ban from Facebook? Should it?
Obviously, Facebook is free to moderate how it wants, and I think this will be interesting to follow over time. Will there be other situations in which being charged with a crime leads to your removal from Facebook? The Supreme Court weighed in on this issue in the Packingham case, that you can’t have a law that requires the loss of internet service in response to a crime, but that only applies to laws. Facebook still has the freedom to refuse service to anyone it chooses.
At the very least, it will be interesting to watch how this kind of policy — regarding off platform activities — evolves on Facebook and other social networks.