For months, activists have been planning a big counter-protest to the Unite the Right white supremacist rally this Saturday on the one-year anniversary of Charlottesville. They were busy promoting the event, securing a location, and coordinating their activities when they were presented with a new hurdle last week–the allegation that they were Russian bots.
One of the accounts shut down by Facebook in its recent crackdown on pages allegedly created by Russian-linked trolls was Resisters, which had created a Facebook event promoting the Unite the Right counter-protest. But soon after it was created, local real-life organizers had taken over planning and promoting the event. Yet Facebook still deleted both the Resisters page and the upcoming event, claiming that they were affiliated with Russian propaganda efforts.
That didn’t stop the organizers, who say that the counter-protest is still going forward. How they rebounded from the negative media coverage and kept going involved a mix of creative decision-making and resourcefulness, organizers tell Fast Company.
On the original event page, about 2,000 people indicated they were interested in attending the counter protest, as well as 600 who said they were definitely going, according to Washington, D.C., Black Lives Matter organizer Makia Green. With its removal by Facebook, local organizers like Green had to try and find other ways to reach those 2,600-plus people.
They made a new event page, which received over 1,500 RSVPs in two days. They mobilized with other local groups to make sure all were in lockstep. And they’ve been trying to shift the media narrative for the past week–away from a Russian bot intrusion and toward their goal of promoting the counter-protest.
And they’re upset about how the whole situation has been handled by Facebook. Though the company claimed that the dozens of accounts it shut down had “coordinated inauthentic behavior” and touted its proactive stance in advance of the midterm elections, organizers feel that Facebook didn’t do its due diligence on Resisters. “There could have been a lot more investigation,” Green tells me. Instead, Facebook seems to have discovered a potential bot account that was associated with a group of activists, and then killed the pages it was allegedly involved with. Local organizers, says Green, were not contacted by Facebook and were not aware of any such inquiry.
Facebook, according to CNN, claims that it informed the organizers about the suspicious accounts. The Huffington Post reports that some organizers received vague emails that looked spammy, which appear to be Facebook’s only attempt to contact them.
What makes this ordeal even more bizarre, is the fact that the evidence linking Resisters to Russian actors is quite thin. According to the Huffington Post, the alleged smoking gun was that Resisters had a co-administrator who may have been linked to the Russian troll farm, the Internet Research Agency. But this alleged foreign account was only an administrator of the account for seven minutes–and Facebook won’t reveal when this took place beyond saying it was “back some time ago.” Despite only spending less than 10 minutes as a leader of the group, Facebook still decided to take down the entire Resisters page.
Facebook said the “Resisters” page, which organized the “No Unite the Right 2” event, recruited real activists who “unwittingly helped build interest in” the event” and posted information about transportation, materials, and locations so people could get to the protests.”
Yet, according to Green, that’s not the case. “All the content [on the event] was created by us,” she says. “It wasn’t a case of another account used all of our work… We took over this event page and have been responsible for all of the organizing.” Facebook’s decision, she says, “disconnected us from 2,000 people.” It also impacted the D.C. groups because “we’ve had to field so many requests we’re not Russian bots.”
“At the end of the day,” she goes on, “white supremacists are still organizing.” So activists around the country are continuing to fight back, claiming that this is just another example of Facebook hampering a local political movement. “There is a history,” says Green, of Facebook targeting certain groups associated with the left and anti-racist movements as not in line with its community standards. “These white nationalist accounts,” she says, “they are not taking down.”
For now, Green and her fellow activists are working on last-minute preparations for both a counter-protest and a civil disobedience demonstration planned on August 12 in Washington, D.C.
“The action is going to happen with or without Facebook,” says Green.