Shortly before the mid-term election in the US, Facebook stopped or removed over 800 accounts and US-based websites that spread politically-oriented messages, as this violates its spam policy. In this way, the company again risks to be accused for imposing political censorship.
Some accounts have existed for years, millions of followers have accumulated support for conservative or liberal ideas. For example, among the closed ones, there is also a page that states “the first publication to support President Donald J. Trump”.
But Facebook has publicly announced only five of the hundreds of pages it has removed. Two of the page operators said they were legitimate political activists, not operators of advertising farms for the so-called “clickbait” titles as Facebook claims. They said they were still unsure what Facebook policies violated or why they were punished for behavior.
In its publication, Facebook describes names like Nation in Distress and Reverb Press pages as largely internal actors using enticing titles and other spam tactics to direct users to websites where they could see ads. The company says it is not influenced by the nature of the content posted by pages, but by the behavior of accounts that used inappropriate tactics to artificially increase its influence. Some of the pages and profiles had millions of followers.
Facebook has said it has protected its accounts because of “systematically violating our spam policies and coordinating inappropriate behavior”. “People will share on Facebook only if they feel safe and trust the links that are placed here”, wrote the social network.
For years, Facebook has tried to stop the spam and so-called clickbait from its platform because it can irritate consumers. But the social network usually applies a softer punishment by moving the sites down in the news so that fewer people can see them, but does not stop them completely.
However, since Russian agents used Facebook to target US voters before the US presidential election in 2016, the company went on a crusade to prove that its platform would not be used to destroy the democratic process. The fake information published by foreigners is a clear manipulation. But the same content, when distributed by locals, can be considered free speech, and the repression against it would be contrary to the principles that social media embrace.