In a major purge Wednesday, Facebook took down hundreds of pages and limited the reach of ads belonging to violent right-wing militias and conspiracy groups like QAnon. The company said the move was part of a "policy expansion" seeking to limit the reach of groups that promote political violence.
In an apparent attempt to create the appearance of fairness, Facebook also took down the pages of prominent anti-fascist and anarchist news groups—ideologies which have been linked to zero deaths in the past 25 years.
In that same period, far-right extremism has been tied to 329 deaths in the US alone, according to a recent survey of almost 900 politically-motivated attacks compiled by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a centrist think tank. QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy movement which promotes unfounded theories about a secret cult of cannabalistic pedophiles, has been linked to child kidnappings, a train hijacking, and the death of at least one person.
On Wednesday, Trump declined to disavow QAnon believers, because of course he did, and said he believes they "love our country."
"Today's move by Facebook has nothing to do with stopping violence and everything to do with cracking down on social movements and everyday people getting organized in their communities," wrote It's Going Down, a prominent anarchist news site that was impacted by the purge. Also affected by the ban was CrimeThinc, a long-running group that promotes anti-fascist and anarchist principles.
This isn't the first time social media companies have removed political content based on this kind of "both sides" false equivalence. In the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections, Facebook took down #AbolishICE pages used by leftist organizers as part of a purge which targeted white supremacists and right-wing "political influence" campaigns. During that same time, Twitter suspended 80 accounts associated with the Occupy movement, during a purge that targeted far-right 4chan trolls pretending to be liberal activists.
It should be no surprise that companies like Facebook are bowing to political pressure to appear "neutral," despite being nothing of the sort. Twitter and Facebook have been constantly and baselessly accused of anti-conservative bias by right-wing pundits and politicians, even though violent racists and far-right conspiracy theories continue to thrive on both platforms. As part of its reelection bid, the Trump campaign has consistently manufactured the spectre of left-wing "antifa violence" in an attempt to stoke fear and rally his base. The Department of Homeland Security has also justified crackdowns against anti-racist protesters by invoking the threat of "violent anarchists," conflating graffiti and property damage with terrorism.
It's impossible to know what Facebook's content moderation team is thinking, but history shows that the company is constantly bumbling in its attempts to moderate its 2 billion users—all the while protecting a business model that profits from racist memes and viral conspiracy theories. As long as that business model continues, absurd false equivalencies will continue to lump together grassroots activist movements with unhinged far-right conspiracies and violence.