SMACC: Facebook Allows Governments to Decide What to Censor

Originally published in CounterPunch

Facebook and other social media companies give governments free reign to censor political dissent on their websites – and that is not “fake news.” Facebook’s unholy alliance with government actors includes Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. These partnerships have led to arrests and killings both in the US and abroad.

Glenn Greenwald reported last year on Facebooks’ admission that it unashamedly deletes accounts at the behest of the US and Israeli governments. An example he gives is the deletion of the Facebook and Instagram (Facebook owns Instagram) accounts of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Facebook’s reasoning was not that he had been accused of human rights violations or due to the content of his page, but simply because he had been added to a United States sanctions list. This came after reports that a Facebook delegation had met with Israeli officials to improve “cooperation against incitement” –which led to the deletion of pro-Palestinian accounts and news agencies. Hundreds of cases in which Palestinians were arrested for their Facebook postssubsequently took place also.

US support of Israel has a lot to do with maintaining hegemony in the Middle East. One of the reasons Saudi Arabia is such an important partner to the United States government is because of its role of backing US and Israeli policies and influence in the Arab world. An example is Saudi Arabia’s support of US and Israeli efforts to undermine the governments of Iran and Syria.

US social media companies work with the Saudi Arabian government to censor dissent and to cover up wrongdoing. In August, when news broke out that Saudi Arabia was planning on beheading Esra al-Ghamgam for peacefully protesting (which they did) Facebook and Twitter deleted hundreds of anti-Saudi accounts. The social media companies cited FireEye, the private intelligence firm, for their discovery. FireEye in turn accused the account of being Iranian propaganda. Facebook also deleted posts from users who shared an article on the Saudi Arabian warin Yemen, claiming that the photographs of starving Yemeni children went against their community standards.

All of this is compounded in the context of Saudi Arabian laws that jail people if they post satireon social media. It should also be kept in mind that the Deputy Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salam has met with Facebook founder Mark ZuckerbergTwitter CEO Jack Dorsey, and Microsoft CEO Satya Narayana Nadellato work on business deals and cooperation.

Both Facebook and Twitter purged over 800 accounts from their sites in an apparent attempt to curtail what it described as “inauthentic behavior.” It has relied on the advice of a number of nefarious organizations and agencies that have their own histories of “inauthentic behavior” to manipulate media and use misinformation and disinformation to manufacture consent of US imperialism and its partners. In fact, there are ties with Saudi Arabia in some of these bodies, despite that country’s reputation of being one of the most blatant censors of free speech in the world today.

One particularly insidious think tank that Facebook partnered with earlier this year(though their relationship spans years) is the Atlantic Council to combat “emerging threats and disinformation campaigns from around the world.” Facebook even had a ‘war room’ with the Atlantic Council set up for the latest elections in Brazil, and will have one for the upcoming US midterm elections as well. This infamous group consists of defense contractors and ex-military types like Henry Kissinger, Mike Morel (former CIA Director), David Petraeus (Former CIA Director and Army General), and Michael Chertoff(former homeland security chief). The Atlantic Council has received funding directly from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as well as all sorts of questionable institutions and state actorsincludingUnited Arab Emirates, NATO, BBVA Bank, BP, Central Bottling Company, Deutsche Bank, Nestle, Shell, and a myriad others including banks, oil conglomerates, telecom companies, petroleum companies, and more.

No wonder the Atlantic Council was silent on Saudi Arabia after the murder of Khashoggi, even though they had written up to eighteen articles after the mysterious poisoning of Russian operatives in the UK. Atlantic Council also meets regularly with the Saudi Regime. On top of all this, Facebook itself has become one of the Atlantic Council’s top donors, undisclosed but on par with the British Government, apparently to outsource the censoring of political opinion.

It should be no surprise, then, that Facebook has teamed up in the past with FireEye, self-described as a ‘private-sector intelligence operation’that just happens tobe funded by the CIA. Their agents seem to be intertwined with the Atlantic Council. Their Chief Intelligence Strategist, for example, who presented at FireEye’s Cyber Defense Summit is also a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, as are otherstaff members. Facebook has itself received funding from the CIAthrough partner organizations (including Palantir, which works with Immigration and Customs Enforcement with Amazon) that initially funded it and are now top stock holders. Facebook also partnered with the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, both of which arefunded by the National Endownment for Democracy.

The NED is a government funded organization created under President Reagan to do overtly what the CIA used to covertly. All of these interests, coalescing in the form of intelligence and security firms, are now hand picking what we can and cannot see on our social media sites. That foreign and corporate interests have influence in US politics and domestic issues, or that they are often fronts or at least close associates with US “intelligence” agencies via variousthink tanks is not exactly new, but these cyberintelligence firms are a novel addition to the state apparatus. Their work with social media companies are likewise a relatively contemporary phenomenon.

Beyond censorship Facebook cooperates with police to arrest, brutalize, and kill activists. In March of this year US Special Operations Command held a conference with police departments,the Atlantic Council, and big tech companies like Microsoft on how to combat online dissent. A report of the conference published by the Atlantic Council describes how private social media companies are the government’s best bet in discouraging anti-government sentiment online. A particularly abhorrent example of censorship in 2016 was Facebook’s deletion of Korryn Gaines’ accountat the behest of the Baltimore police.

While the police were trying to serve an arrest warrant on Gaines (for a minor traffic stop in which the police pulled her out of her car and threatened to ‘break her limbs’) she barricaded herself in her apartment and began live streaming on social media. During that time Facebook deleted her account at the request of the police, who then promptly shot her to death. Without the video from Gaines’ social media or body cameras on the police (none of the officers had one on) there is no accountability and no real way to find out what happened. They had come with the warrant for her arrest, by the way, because of that minor traffic stop. They gave her trumped up charges of assaulting a police officer and disorderly conduct for which she failed to appear in court. We can be sure of their lying because police have a proven history of lyingand because not even the jury believed them – Gaine’s family was awarded millions.

We have every reason to wonder about the influence of Atlantic Council and similar organizations in shaping social media’s fake attacks on “fake news”, their new mask for outright censorship. How much of this kind of censorship is taken from a playbook provided by their Saudi and US government funders? Is there a link between this influence and the arrests and police brutality that often follows on the heels of social media censorship? If you would like to join the effort to end social media censorship sign up for AfGJ’s new Social Media Anti-Censorship Campaign (SMACC). As a rapid response network SMACC will give social media platforms a virtual “smack” by flooding them with calls and emails when they censor legitimate news sources or dissenting political opinions.

David Archuleta Jr. is National Co-Coordinator at the Alliance for Global Justice.