Facebook Follows Up Vow to Fight Climate Change With ‘Mass Censorship’ of Climate Activists

Facebook Follows Up Vow to Fight Climate Change With ‘Mass Censorship’ of Climate Activists
Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook Inc. (Photo: Chris Ratcliffe , Getty Images)

Just last week, Facebook launched an initiative to uplift climate science. It was wildly misguided, yes, but the company was trying to show it’s down for the cause or something. Now, the company is proving just how devoted to climate activism it is by, um, booting environmental justice organisers from the platform. Tight!

Hundreds of Indigenous, environmental, and social justice groups and members had their accounts blocked this past weekend, leaving them unable to post or send messages. Greenpeace USA, Climate Hawks Vote, Stand.earth, Wet’suwet’en Access Point on Gidimt’en Territory, and Rainforest Action Network were among the groups that saw their accounts affected.

The accounts blocked were involved in planning a communications blockade event against KKR & Co., the U.S. investment firm that’s majority funder of the destructive Coastal Link natural gas pipeline, which is set to cut through land controlled by Indigenous people without consent. In other words, these groups were blocked while fighting climate injustice.

“Facebook is actively suppressing those who oppose fascism and the colonial capitalists,” activist Delee Nikal, a Wet’suwet’en band member of the Gitdimt’en clan, said in a statement emailed to Earther.

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In a statement, Facebook said these suspensions were all just a random accident.

“Our systems mistakenly removed these accounts and content,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said.

He said all limits imposed had been lifted, but according to Greenpeace USA, though many accounts have now been restored, some are still blocked.

Forgive me, Andy, if I’m a little sceptical. Hundreds of accounts all tied to the same protest all just happened to get blocked at the same time? OK, bruh. Sure. The organisations suspect the action was taken in response to their planned digital protest of KKR, and they’re asking Facebook to conduct a formal investigation, with Greenpeace USA calling what happened “mass censorship.”

Either way, damage to the campaign has already been done. The communications blockade, which was being organised and promoted on Facebook, was going to involve flooding KKR’s phone lines and email addresses. Group members were going to ask the firm to stop funding the 669 km, $US5 ($7) billion pipeline and informing KKR that the project would violate the rights of the Wet’suwet’en people and further the climate crisis. The organisations planned to begin the online action on Monday, but without access to Facebook, organisers said, they were unable to post updates, message participants, or remain in contact with Wet’suwet’en leaders whose primary form of online communication is Facebook Messenger. So they had to cancel the action altogether.

I don’t think Facebook censoring political organising of any stripe is a good idea. But as the organisers noted, it’s not as though the platform is taking steps to universally stop political activity. While they were prevented from engaging in activism against the Coastal GasLink Pipeline, Facebook hasn’t taken the same steps against right-wing activists.

“Videos of extreme violence, alt-right views and calls for violence by militias in Kenosha, Wisconsin, are allowed to persist on Facebook,” Nikal said. “Yet, we are banned and receive threats for permanent removal, for posting an online petition.”

The blockings are particularly notable because they came so soon after Facebook launched its climate science information centre, which obscures the massively outsized role of the global elite and fossil fuel companies in causing the crisis. The company also allowed wildfire misinformation to spread across the platform by far-right extremists before belatedly taking it down. Earlier this year, an investigation by the CBC found that fossil fuel companies and groups linked to them spent over $US110,000 ($153,703) on Facebook ads denouncing widespread protests against the Coastal GasLink Pipeline, which means Facebook also makes money from climate disinformation.

If Facebook actually want to address the climate crisis, not censoring environmental activism, being stooges for gas companies, and allowing conspiracies to spread seems like a good place to start. Which is maybe why it hasn’t take those steps in the first place.