Facebook have reinstated the Socialist Workers Party’s (SWP) national Facebook page, some local pages and activists’ profiles, after an online campaign. Within hours of the ban, thousands of organisations and individuals put pressure on Facebook to reverse the decision- which was a clear attempt by social media bosses to shut down voices of resistance.
However dozens of SWP activists and local branch pages remain suspended.
The SWP, one of the of the biggest left wing organisations in Britain, is calling for all the remaining ones to be restored.
Facebook’s partial climbdown comes after the party’s national Facebook page—as well as accounts of local pages—were removed from the site with no explanation on Friday afternoon.
A spokesperson for the SWP said: “We thank all the socialists, trade unionists and campaigners for their solidarity. Their pressure forced Facebook to reverse their decision.
“We’re now calling for all Facebook to restore all of the remaining profiles and pages—the site should not be shutting down our voices.
“Facebook had already suspended dozens of our accounts in the autumn of 2020—this must not happen again.”
On Friday, Facebook carried out a purge of left-wing, antiwar and progressive pages and accounts, including leading members of the Socialist Equality Party. Facebook gave no explanation why the accounts were disabled or even a public acknowledgement that the deletions had occurred.
At least a half dozen leading members of the Socialist Equality Party had their Facebook accounts permanently disabled. This included the public account of Genevieve Leigh, the national secretary of the International Youth and Students for Social Equality, and the personal account of Niles Niemuth, the US managing editor of the World Socialist Web Site. In 2016, Niemuth was the Socialist Equality Party’s candidate for US Vice President.
Facebook also disabled the London Bus Drivers Rank-and-File Committee Facebook page, which was set up with the support of the Socialist Equality Party (UK) to organize opposition among bus drivers. This follows a widely discussed call for a walkout by bus drivers to demand elementary protections against the COVID-19 pandemic.
None of the individuals whose accounts were disabled had violated Facebook’s policies. Upon attempting to appeal the deletion of their account, they received an error message stating, “We cannot review the decision to disable your account.”
With no explanation or warning, Facebook has effectively seized the intellectual property of those it has targeted, cutting them off from years of their photos, writings and online discussions.
Also targeted was the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the UK. Its main national Facebook account was disabled, with approximately 20,000 followers, together with its student group, the Socialist Workers’ Student Society, with approximately 5,000 followers, as well as its annual Marxism festival, with 12,000 followers.
Additionally, entire branches of the organisation were disabled on Facebook, particularly in Scotland, as well as the Facebook accounts of individual members, according to SWP representative Lewis Nielsen. “This has been a concerted attack on us,”.
Following widespread protests on Twitter and other social media networks, Facebook reversed the ban of the SWP’s main page, although the pages of a number of local branches and members remain offline.
The attack on leading members of the SEP and other left-wing organizations is a calculated act of censorship, at the behest of the state and the ruling class, to silence opposition. These actions are part of a yearslong campaign to create the framework for censorship in the United States and internationally.
Such acts of censorship are a desperate response to the growth of popular opposition to inequality, social misery, and the ruling class’s disastrous response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has put profits above the protection of human lives.
Labour Heartlands has for years warned about the crackdown on all political outlets, not just left-wing political organisations. If we are to have freedom of speech and the right to express we need to protect that ‘right’ for everyone, not just ourselves.
Since the 2016 election, the US intelligence agencies have advocated internet censorship in the name of fighting “fake news.” While these actions have been presented as targeting far-right conspiracy theories, they have in fact disproportionately affected left-wing, antiwar and socialist organizations.
In 2017 Google announced that it would promote “authoritative” news sources over “alternative viewpoints,” leading to a massive drop in search traffic to left-wing sites.
The working class who have held the right of free speech in the same reverence as democracy, the working class that revel in vigorous debate, don’t shy from the argument, they rely on truth and the freedom to speak ‘truth’ is the only way our democracy can survive.
“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.”
Chomsky warns that censorship, while something “we have come to expect this on the radical right,” is also spreading more widely on the left through “an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.”
“The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.”
Chomsky, importantly, is defending free speech for all, because he correctly understands that the powerful are only too keen to find justifications to silence those who challenge their power. Elites protect free speech only in so far as it serves their interests in dominating the public space.
If those on the progressive left do not defend the speech rights of everyone, even their political opponents, then any restrictions will soon be turned against them. The establishment will always tolerate the hate speech of a Trump or a Bolsonaro over the justice speech of a Sanders or a Corbyn.
Noam Chomsky has previously spoken on the same issue to some effect. Chomsky is a staunch defender in the rights of free speech. This has previous got Chomsky in trouble, as this defence has resulted in some hard-hitting statements.
Noam Chomsky has been quoted to have said:
“If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favour of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favour of free speech, then you’re in favour of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favour of free speech.”