A group dedicated to an open internet said Wednesday that Facebook wound up scrubbing legitimate organizations in the company’s removal operation this week, supposedly aimed at Russian troll farms.
Fight for the Future says a genuine coalition is behind a rally to be held in the District of Columbia in August on the anniversary of last year’s Charlottesville disturbance that left one counterprotester dead.
The group accused Facebook of “arbitrary censorship” in taking down genuine accounts along with the allegedly fake actors.
“Calls for more censorship, whether they come from the left or the right, pose a dangerous threat to legitimate freedom of speech and undermine the power of the Internet as a tool for people to organize, educate themselves, and challenge tyranny and corruption,” Evan Greer, Fight for the Future’s deputy director, said in a press release.
Ms. Greer did not respond to phone calls and the nonprofit group did not respond to e-mails seeking more details on its view of the Facebook “purge,” which it claimed took the wind out of the counterprotest’s sails.
“The event had attracted thousands of interested internet users, and has now been effectively squashed by Facebook’s purge, just weeks before the protest, giving organizers little time to regain momentum,” Fight for the Future wrote.
The internet giant announced Tuesday it had taken down 32 pages or profiles it deemed to be engaged in disseminating bogus information, similar to the Russian-backed trolling attacks during the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook said it could not positively trace the 32 scrubbed groups to Russia, citing more sophisticated technological dodges to elude identification. But some of the characteristics seen in the allegedly fake accounts were similar to digital hallmarks of previously disabled accounts linked to Russian agents.
One tactic used to give the fake accounts a sheen of authenticity is to be engaging with legitimate accounts, according to Facebook.
A page Facebook identified as fake, called Resisters, “created a Facebook Event for a protest on August 10 to 12 and enlisted support from real people,” Facebook wrote when announcing the removals. “The Event — ‘No Unite the Right 2 — DC’ — was scheduled to protest an August ‘Unite the Right’ event in Washington. Inauthentic admins of the ‘Resisters’ Page connected with admins from five legitimate Pages to co-host the event.”
In fact, it’s a real event, according to Fight for the Future and others.
“I cannot believe I have to say this: the Unite the Right counterprotest is not being organized by Russians,” said Dylan Petrohilos, identified as a “local activist” by Fight for the Future. “We have permits in D.C., We have numerous local orgs like BLM, Resist This, and Antifascist groups working on this protest. Fb deleted the event because 1 page was sketch.”
On Tuesday, Facebook acknowledged the counterprotest had garnered thousands of likes and that authentic groups had begun sketching out logistical support for it.
“These legitimate Pages unwittingly helped build interest in ‘No Unite Right 2 – DC’ and posted information about transportation, materials, and locations so people could go to the protests,” Facebook wrote.
The company said it would notify the 2,600 users “interested” in what it described as a fake event, as well as “the more than 600 users who said they’d attend.”
No further mention about Tuesday’s scrubbing was posted at Facebook’s online “Newsroom” on Wednesday and the company did not respond to a request for comment.
• James Varney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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