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Facebook Suspends Accounts Of Environmental Groups, Without Explanation, One Day Before Online Protest

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Sep 23, 2020

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Image Credit: Facebook

Over the course of the weekend, Facebook suspended the accounts of more than 200 users, including Greenpeace USA, Rising Tide North America, Rainforest Action Network, and Presente.org, among others.

At the time of imposing the suspensions, rather vaguely, Facebook cited “intellectual property rights violation,” without providing further details on the alleged infringement. Subsequently, a statement issued by Facebook, said: “Our systems mistakenly removed these accounts and content. They have since been restored and we’ve lifted any limits imposed on identified profiles.” And, while some accounts have indeed been restored now, according to The Guardian, some continue to remain suspended, while awaiting a fuller explanation from Facebook.

In the meantime, amid the anger and confusion that ensued due to the suspensions, activists scrambled to come up with a reason. Reportedly, affected accounts have one common link: all the collective, and individual, accounts that were suspended had taken part in a Facebook event targeting KKR & Co. for funding the Coastal GasLink pipeline being built in northern British Columbia, which will “cut through sovereign Wet’suwet’en land, defiantly ignoring assertions from the hereditary chiefs of their rights, title, and consent for the project,” according to Greenpeace, who had co-hosted that event last May. Reportedly, the affected accounts were blocked a day ahead of another scheduled online protest against KKR. “The timing was more than suspect. We would like to have transparency in this situation,” Delee Nikal, a Wet’suwet’en community member of the Gitdimt’en clan from the Witset First Nation, told Canada’s National Observer. “Fossil fuel companies, and their funders, will use every tool in their toolbox to attempt to silence us. But they are struggling to counter the Indigenous-led resistance to end our addiction to oil and gas and instead respect Indigenous sovereignty,”  Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA, commented. 


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Globally, 212 Environmental Activists Were Killed in 2019: Report


The suspensions came less than a week after Facebook committed to tackling misinformation on the climate crisis, and even launched a ‘Climate Science Information Center‘ to counter misleading posts that reject the “unambiguous” science of climate change. On the one hand, while Facebook has suspended the accounts of environmentalists, on the other hand, experts have pointed out flaws in Facebook’s algorithms that aim to tackle misinformation. Reportedly, articles and posts categorized as “false” upon being fact-checked by Facebook, can still be published on the platform, if it is simply labelled as “opinion.” And reportedly, that was the case with CO2 Coalition, a group that argues more carbon dioxide is good for the planet, and published its article as an “opinion” when fact-checking criticized the accuracy of its climate models.

Now, whether the present suspensions were simply a result of yet another flaw in Facebook’s algorithm is difficult to ascertain, especially given the social media giant’s lack of transparency on the matter. But, Facebook is already synonymous with both ineffective algorithmic filters, and opacity around its algorithms. In fact, just last month, Facebook’s algorithm was found to be “actively promoting” Holocaust-denial content through its search function, despite a spokesperson from the company saying: “We take down any post that celebrates, defends, or attempts to justify the Holocaust. We also remove groups and pages that discuss Holocaust denial from recommendations and references to it in search predictions.”

“Videos of extreme violence, alt-right views and calls for violence by militias in Kenosha, Wisconsin, are allowed to persist on Facebook. Yet we are banned and receive threats for permanent removal, for posting an online petition,” Nikal said, adding: “When media and corporations like Facebook direct the narrative in such a way, it compromises societies’ access to freedom of information.”

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Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an associate editor with The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, and a painter by shaukh. She has her own podcast called #DateNightsWithD on Spotify. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.

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