Facebook Censorship and Surveillance (Workers Vangurard) 24 Aug 2018
As Democrats Push “Russiagate” Hysteria
Facebook Censorship and Surveillance
AUGUST 21—After it was revealed that Facebook handed over the private information of some 87 million users without their consent to the political data firm Cambridge Analytica, CEO Mark Zuckerberg came before Congress in April to assure lawmakers, especially Democrats, that his company would self-regulate against “fake news” and “bad actors.” Coming amid the Democratic-fueled hysteria against “Russian meddling” in the 2016 elections, Zuckerberg’s message to politicians was clear: we will carry out surveillance and censorship for you. And Facebook is doing it.
In late July, with the midterm elections approaching, Facebook deleted the event page for the “No Unite The Right 2” protest in Washington, D.C., which was called in response to fascist rallies over the August 11-12 weekend. Over 3,000 users who indicated interest in the anti-fascist event received notices claiming that it was created by “fake accounts.” But the event was real, and the page Facebook deleted was one of the main announcements for it. The shutdown of the anti-fascist event page, which had been used by activists including Black Lives Matter, was the centerpiece of Facebook’s announcement trumpeting its closure of 32 pages and accounts for “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” The implication was that they were of Russian origin, although not even Facebook can define what “inauthentic” exactly means. The content shared by the users was generally left-liberal, with pages like “Black Elevation,” “Aztlan Warriors” and “Resisters.” As we go to press, Facebook announced it had taken down another 652 “fake accounts,” linking them to a purported new “political influence campaign” with ties to Russia and Iran.
Facebook shut down the initial 32 pages in collaboration with the Digital Forensics Research Lab (DFRL), which ominously depicted them as “designed to catalyze the most incendiary impulses of political sentiment.” DFRL is an arm of the Atlantic Council, which Facebook teamed up with in order to “prevent our service from being abused during elections” and to monitor “misinformation and foreign interference.” A pro-U.S. think tank with ties to NATO, the Atlantic Council includes certified war criminals like Henry Kissinger and former CIA chief Michael Hayden on its board of directors.
Meanwhile, Facebook has knowingly hosted the “inauthentic” accounts set up by police departments around the country to spy on activists. It came out this month that the Memphis Police Department had set up a fake profile for at least two years to track and entrap black organizations and activists. A 2013 study indicated that more than half of the police departments polled admitted to using such phony profiles (the figure is likely much higher).
After Facebook removed the pages in July, Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, encouraged further censorship in the name of fighting “foreign bad actors” who are “dividing us along political and ideological lines, to the detriment of our cherished democratic system.” This is part of the endless effort to paint working people and minorities who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 as dupes of Russian bots working for Trump’s victory. In fact, it was one of the jewels of America’s “cherished democratic system,” the Electoral College, that denied Clinton her crown despite her winning the popular vote.
The “Russiagate” hysteria, including the investigation into Trump’s “collusion” with Russian president Vladimir Putin, is a lot of smoke and mirrors to obscure the fact that the U.S. capitalist system is based on the brutal exploitation of the working class and racist oppression and violence. The notion that working people who can barely make ends meet are angry at the Washington establishment because of some fake social media accounts is both absurd and obscene. Likewise, in a country built on the backs of black slaves, and where the majority of black people remain subjugated at the bottom of society, it doesn’t take “foreign bad actors” for black people to know that they’re in the gun sights of the killer cops.
Supposed electoral meddling by Russia should not matter one bit to the U.S. working class. Deceit, manipulation and hypocrisy are used by the capitalist rulers—represented by both Democrats and Republicans—to maintain their system of wage slavery, black oppression and global imperialist domination. As for “influencing” elections, the U.S. imperialists are unrivaled in such “regime change,” like bloody coups and invasions. As part of opposing its own exploiters, the working class must stand against U.S. imperialist sanctions against Russia.
Behind the lurid tales of a Kremlin puppet in the White House lies a real threat. The Democrats are seizing on legitimate revulsion toward Trump to promote the murderous FBI and CIA as defenders of “democracy” and to push for increased government surveillance and censorship. Earlier this month, many liberals cheered when Facebook, YouTube (owned by Google) and Apple podcasts, among others, banned Alex Jones’s loony far-right, conspiracy-peddling Infowars. These tech conglomerates, which are virtual monopolies, have ordained themselves arbiters of what is sacred or profane for American eyes and ears.
The growing trend to censor media content, including against reactionaries like Jones, is ominous and will always redound against leftists, minorities and any perceived opponent of the U.S. rulers. Facebook, in collaboration with the Israeli government, has just this year shut down at least 500 accounts of Palestinian journalists and publications, including the Safa Palestinian Press Agency, grotesquely equating advocacy of Palestinian rights with anti-Jewish “hate speech.” Meanwhile, Zuckerberg treats accounts denying the Nazi Holocaust as merely “things that different people get wrong.”
Leftists who post material that the Facebook czar disagrees with may find themselves part of a scene from Kafka’s Trial. One article on the International Socialist Organization’s Socialist Worker website (7 August) by Dana Cloud, a professor at Syracuse University, described what happened when she tried to run a Facebook ad for an anti-I.C.E. protest. Initially denied because her account was not “authorized for ads with political content,” she was then required to hand over all her personal information to Facebook, which all but assures that it will be handed over to the government. When she put a Socialist Worker post on her page, she was warned that it might be “divisive” and sponsored by a foreign power. Although Socialist Worker—socialist in name only—criticizes some aspects of censorship, it had given credence to the “genuine concerns raised by the issue of Twitter bots and fake accounts” (12 October 2017), adding its own fuel to the fire.
Democracy under capitalism is a fig leaf for the class dictatorship of the capitalists. “Equality before the law” serves as a cloak for the class division of society, where, as Anatole France quipped, the rich and poor are forbidden alike from sleeping under a bridge or stealing a loaf of bread. To promote their interests, the rulers rely on their kept media, from print and television news to the likes of Facebook. Following the overthrow of bourgeois rule by the working class in the 1917 October Revolution, Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin explained the policy of the newly founded workers state toward the press:
“For the bourgeoisie, freedom of the press meant freedom for the rich to publish and for the capitalists to control the newspapers, a practice which in all countries, including even the freest, produced a corrupt press.
“For the workers’ and peasants’ government, freedom of the press means liberation of the press from capitalist oppression, and public ownership of paper mills and printing presses.”
— “Draft Resolution on Freedom of the Press,” 4 November 1917
Above all, the bourgeoisie has the armed force of the capitalist state—its cops, prisons and military—to enforce its rule. The precondition for a genuinely free society, including the eradication of exploitation, racial oppression and imperialist war, is the expropriation of the means of production from the wealthy few capitalists through working-class revolution.
Workers Vanguard No. 1138
24 August 2018 https://www.icl-fi.org/print/english/wv/1138/facebook.html