One of the strangest claims made today about free speech is that it is a ‘right-wing’ talking point. It’s an excuse to spout racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia – you pick the prejudice. Some even claim that there is no crisis of free speech, and anyone who professes their support for this most liberal of values is essentially a useful idiot for the far right.
But Facebook’s latest crackdown makes clear that it is not only the right whose free speech is under threat. Earlier this month, Facebook announced an extension of its ‘Dangerous Individuals and Organisations’ policy. This was the policy it used to ban right-wing controversialists like Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos and Paul Joseph Watson – alongside anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan – who were all accused of promoting ‘violence and hate’.
Now, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests-cum-riots, Facebook has decided to cast its net of censorship wider. ‘We have seen growing movements that, while not directly organising violence, have celebrated violent acts, shown that they have weapons and suggest they will use them, or have individual followers with patterns of violent behaviour’, Facebook said in a recent statement.
This has led to Facebook removing 790 groups, 100 pages and 1,500 ads tied to the crankish, right-wing QAnon conspiracy theory. But it has also led to a purge of so-called ‘Antifa’ groups and other far-left organisations. ‘For militia organisations and those encouraging riots… we have initially removed over 980 groups, 520 pages and 160 ads from Facebook. We have also restricted over 1,400 hashtags related to these groups and organisations on Instagram’, the statement continues.
This is not the first time Antifa groups have been censored by Big Tech. Back in 2018, PayPal started refusing to process payments which were connected to a number of prominent Antifa organisations at the same time as it banned Tommy Robinson, Alex Jones and the Proud Boys.