Was It Racist for Facebook to Take Down a Page Opposing the ‘Unite the Right 2’ March?

By Spencer Sunshine Aug 09, 2018

While Facebook continues to be a haven for White nationalism, Holocaust denial and Islamophobia, it has recently drawn criticism for taking down an event page for a protest against the "Unite the Right 2" rally on Sunday (August 12)  in Washington, D.C. The first Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, ended with the killing of anti-racist protester Heather Heyer and the wounding of 19 others. One year later, the rally's "alt-right" organizer Jason Kessler is trying again.

Facebook officials claimed they took down “No Unite the Right 2-DC” and 31 other unrelated pages because they violated the company's ban on “coordinated inauthentic behavior” by "bad actors." The D.C. counter-protest page was hosted by "Resisters," a page with a passing link to the U.S. election-meddling, Russian troll farm Internet Research Agency. But on-the-ground antifacsist organizers said they had taken over the page and were using it to spread the word about their counter-protest

In a statement obtained by the Associated Press on August 2, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said that "legitimate Pages unwittingly helped build interest in ‘No Unite Right 2 – DC’ and posted information about transportation, materials, and locations so people could get to the protests.”

But April Goggans, creator of #KeepDC4Me, and a Black Lives Matter DC organizer who is co-planning the Unite the Right 2 counter-protest, says the removal reflects a double standard in how Facebook exercises its policies. Goggans talked to Colorlines about how the page removal and other Facebook actions have interfered with the fight against White supremacy. The emailed exchange is edited for clarity and length.

When Facebook took down the “No Unite the Right 2-DC” event page on July 31, how many people was it reaching?

The main social media event showed that about 600 people said they would be attending. About 2,000 people indicated they were interested, and thousands had been invited by the various co-hosts. The video for the event was shared hundreds of times from the page. The removal of this page insured we would lose contact with people we’d connected with.
rntDo you think one reason why the page was removed was because Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a co-host of the counter-protest?

Yes, absolutely. There is a very clear double standard in the way Facebook “cracks down” on groups and content. I am reminded of the work the Media Justice Center (CMJ) and several other partners are doing to confront Facebook about this targeting. In a letter to Joel Kaplan, Facebook's global policy director, and Mark Zuckerberg, CMJ and 77 other partners confronted Facebook about how "[a]ctivists in the Movement for Black Lives have routinely reported the takedown of images discussing racism and during protests, with the justification that it violates Facebook’s Community Standards. At the same time, harassment and threats directed at activists based on their race, religion, and sexual orientation is thriving on Facebook. Many of these activists have reported such harassment and threats by users and pages on Facebook only to be told that they don’t violate Facebook’s Community Standards." 

What do you have to say to people who think that Russia is behind the work of Black Lives Matter and others fighting White nationalism?

I’d say that they were easy targets for Facebook and irresponsible media. Facebook created a narrative prior to talking to us or doing any real due diligence. It invoked confusion and fear in our bases and supporters and confirmed our perceived illegitimacy in the minds of our opponents. Media outlets chose to run with this narrative with the same lack of scrutiny. All the content on the page was created by D.C. activists. The fact is we are the real people doing this, and we did it the way we wanted to. We are the folks on the ground doing this work; we care very deeply; and we are in it until we’re free. We were resisting White supremacy before Charlottesville, before the inauguration [of President Donald Trump] and we’ll be resisting just as hard long after they are pushed out of D.C.

Do you think there will be more Facebook crackdowns on activists working to dismantle White supremacy?

I do. I both see and feel that we live in a time where any opportunity—real or created—to disrupt, discredit and mischaracterize those who resist the right [wing] is the normalized and deemed a justified response. The rage shown by those who feel the White supremacy, patriarchy, imperialism and capitalism that has made them “great” is not new. And Facebook, clearly a major beneficiary of White supremacy, patriarchy, imperialism, and capitalism, is in many ways their enforcer. So this will continue to happen. I say this because even after large social justice groups organized and pushed to make Facebook agree to conduct a civil rights and safety audit, the company brought in the highly anti-Black Heritage Foundation to investigate issues of liberal bias during that audit. Further, we question why Facebook and the so-called Atlantic Council that advised them should have so much power in indicting real activist organizing. 

What are the plans for the counter-actions, and how can people support it who aren’t coming to your actions including the Rise Up Fight Back March on Saturday?

We are really happy to be part of such a powerful coalition of local organizers in the Shut it Down Coalition. Our Rise Up Fight Back March is a strong contingent of the counter-protest. We will be in the streets on August 12, and we intend to win. As with all of the work BLM does, its critical to uplift Black folks in D.C. and especially native Washingtonians who have an incredible history of resisting White supremacists who enter the District. This will not be the first time D.C. has shut down a KKK rally. In 1982, the Klan was run out of town when D.C. residents took to throwing rocks and bottles at them and creating a momentary insurrection against White supremacy. In that same spirit, we will "#DefendDC against fascism and white-supremacy on August 10 to 12. White supremacist, fascist rallies are all public displays of violence and calls for genocide. They are Brian Trainer and every killer cop. They are the ICE agents. They are the prison system that breaks up families. When ignored, fascism grows. And even when their movement is small, it can be deadly.

Our Rise Up Fight Back March is for the victims of fascist violence and the families they leave behind. This is for the church members in Charleston, for Natasha Mckenna, Jeffrey Price, D’Quan Young, Ralphael Briscoe, Miriam Carey, Richard Collins III, Terrence Sterling, and countless others. 

Click the following links for information about the Rise Up Fight Back march and Shut It Down DC actions in opposition to the White supremacist Unite The Right 2 rally. Visit DCist to get information about faith-based protests. 

Spencer Sunshine is an associate fellow at Political Research Associates. Follow him on Twitter: @transform6789.