Between Facebook’s de-platforming of the gun rights group Virginia Citizens Defense League and the encrypted chat and file-sharing platform Keybase’s decision to ban the transfer of files for 3D printed firearms, it’s clear that Big Tech’s clampdown on Second Amendment-related speech is continuing with no end in sight.
On today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, Stephen Gutowski of the Washington Free Beacon joins me to discuss his latest article on the trials and travails of the VCDL and its booting from Facebook, which occurred much of an explanation and no ability to appeal or reverse the company’s decision.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, told the Washington Free Beacon that the group’s page disappeared without explanation. The company said the decision to remove the page is final—but did not provide further details.
“This was correctly actioned and we will not be republishing,” Facebook spokeswoman Kristen Morea said. She declined to elaborate on the decision.
Van Cleave said the group used its Facebook page exclusively to communicate with its members as well as organize electoral and legislative efforts. The group’s page helped raise awareness of Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D.) controversial gun-control agenda in 2020 and mobilized activists to help block some Democratic proposals. The league also took to social media to spread the word about COVID guidelines in the months leading up to a peaceful driving demonstration in Richmond on January 18. Van Cleave said the ban deprives the league of such capabilities in the future.
Facebook’s decision to pull the league without explanation may signal trouble for other mainstream gun-rights groups and ignite new scrutiny of the company’s opaque moderation practices. The company has come under fire before for its ad hoc approach to content moderation, with critics alleging that it plays politics and arbitrarily silences conservative voices. Van Cleave, for one, says that’s what he believes and that Facebook’s move against his group foreshadows the deplatforming of other Second Amendment Groups.
I suspect that Van Cleave is correct in assuming that Facebook’s banhammer will soon be used against other 2A activists, and with the company’s complete lack of transparency regarding the VCDL’s ban, there’s really no way for other Second Amendment organizations to know if they’re in compliance with the platforms rules and regulations.
The Facebook representative that Gutowski spoke with said she couldn’t offer details about why the gun rights group was banned from the platform because of a “very real and credible threat that people can game the system” if their policies were laid out more clearly.
It seems to me that bad actors have already figured out how to “game the system,” since Facebook has been accused of allowing posts dealing with human trafficking and other illicit behavior. While the company has the right to be as transparent or opaque as they want, the simple truth is that without a clear set of guidelines and specific examples of posts that violate those policies, organizations like the VCDL and others simply have no way of ensuring that they’re following the platforms terms of service.
That may be a feature for Facebook but it’s a bug for the users. Stephen Gutowski and I are in agreement that we’re likely to see more organizations develop an online presence beyond the major platforms like Facebook and Twitter, at least as a backup. With 2A groups being pushed out of the online public square and into the back alleys of the Internet, however, these organizations will see their ability to engage and influence the conversation around gun control and the right to keep and bear arms diminished.
It’s one thing to be able to talk to your members on a platform like MeWe, but MeWe, Gab, and other social media networks simply don’t have the reach and massive user base of Facebook. If Big Tech continues its crackdown on disfavored speech perhaps that will change, but at the moment Silicon Valley’s attempt to silence at least some members of the Second Amendment community poses more problems than opportunities for online activists.