Questions on Facebook’s Censorship and Banning



Editor's Note: We received this letter from a reader, and thought it important to share as part of the necessary discussion—and food for thought—on the recent permanent banning of individuals from Facebook's platform, and to explore and understand its potential implications. While there are many new questions in terms of the advent of social media as sources and platforms for sharing news, information and opinion, and this merits further grappling, the precedents being set right now are potentially very dangerous and need to be opposed, as we monitor further developments.

On Thursday, May 2, Facebook, the largest social network in the world, banned Alex Jones, of Infowars, a white-supremacist conspiracy-spewing website, and its contributor Paul Watson; Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan who has been known to traffic in anti-Semitism; Milo Yiannopoulos, a fascist provocateur who has a history of white-supremacy; anti-Muslim provocateur Laura Loomer; and Paul Hehlen, neo-Nazi, self-described "pro-white" congressional candidate who ran against Paul Ryan in 2016. This follows the earlier banning of the official pages of white-supremacist and fascist groups spewing conspiracies and “fake news” like Infowars and Nation in Distress.

A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement on May 2, “We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology. The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today.” Facebook's stated criteria are vague and broad, and leave room for tremendous abuse.

While the propagated views and rhetoric of the individuals banned on May 2 are odious and harmful, and are mainly white-supremacist and/or anti-Semitic, the fact is that Facebook also at different times banned or suspended progressive groups and individuals from Black Lives Matter, advocates against police brutality as well as supporters of

All this poses a number of inter-related and immediate questions:

  • What does it mean that while Facebook has historically promoted itself as an “open platform” attempting to become the world’s digital public square with enormous reach and influence, it has increasingly been policing and censoring content on this platform, assigning itself the power of judge and arbiter of who is—and who is not—allowed into this public square on an ongoing permanent basis?
  • This assumes concentrated manifestation in the banning of Louis Farrakhan. News articles attribute this to anti-Semitism. Farrakhan has in fact trafficked in deplorable and horrific anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and is reactionary as shown on, but he has not, to my understanding, incited specific acts of violence against individuals recently, nor has Facebook provided any evidence of this. This starts narrowing who can be allowed into “the public square.” How is this related to historic and current attempts to criminalize a whole range of groups that have opposed or seem to oppose white supremacy, from one standpoint or another?
  • How does this relate to the fact that one of the biggest purveyors of violence in the world—historically and at present—is the U.S. government? Or that one of the biggest purveyors of “hate” in the world is the occupant of the highest office of the land, concentrating the white supremacy, xenophobia and misogyny of this society? To my knowledge, these have not been banned permanently from Facebook, raising real questions about their professed criteria.
  • What is the relationship between this move and the larger context of the rise of fascism and the increasing criminalization of dissent and protest? The fascist Trump/Pence regime is calling for protest to be penalized with harsh sentences, backing laws in multiple jurisdictions, and is threatening to pass laws that penalize universities heavily if reactionary and fascist protesters are not allowed to speak or are driven off campus by student and other protest.

While this particular move by Facebook may in some ways be seen as a counter-current since the main people currently being banned are white supremacists who are supporters of the fascist regime, its precedent is likely to reverberate and redound against genuinely progressive and radical ideas, ideas and ideology that Facebook and others can designate and declare as “promoting or engaging” in “violence and hate.”

These and other related questions demand attention as this unfolds.


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