Facebook says Suspension of Activists Accounts was an Error

Facebook says Suspension of Activists Accounts was an Error

User accounts of around 200 people were suspended by Facebook on the 19thof September. All of these accounts belonged to people who were associated with an event set up in protest to the making of the pipeline of Coastal GasLink. A suspension like this exposes activists’ vulnerability to the decisions of online media. During the pandemic, when social distancing is essential, it gets riskier to protest in person, leaving activists at the mercy of platforms on the internet.

Natives have expressed opposition to the construction of the pipeline which will cut through Wet’suwet’en territory, if it is built. Protesting through Facebook was one of the ways activists could spread their message while maintaining social distancing norms to curb COVID-19. The suspension left the activists struggling to communicate in the absence of Facebook messenger. The incident left the activists thinking about the effectiveness of their protests against the pipeline developers.

Earlier, Wet’suwet’en supporters, Greenpeace, etc., hosted an event on Facebook asking opponents to send multitudes of calls and emails to KKR, the pipeline’s major funder. Another almost identical event was planned for the 21st of this month. However, on the 19th, people who had administrative access to 15 pages on Facebook and were co-hosting the event got a suspension message. The message stated that these accounts will be frozen for 3 days.

The Wet’suwet’en supporters have said they might move away from Facebook for future action as the incident left them feeling sceptical. The supporters have expressed concern about being under surveillance due to their activism. According to Lindsey Allen, who is the chief program officer working at Greenpeace USA; it was unnerving that Facebook could quieten the climate movement without an explanation. A lot of scientists, activists, and lawmakers have also criticized the social media giant for permitting a spread of misinformation regarding climate change.

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Facebook has denied that these activist accounts were targeted. According to an email sent to The Verge, the social media giant claims that their systems suspended these accounts and their content by mistake. Moreover, according to the email, these accounts have been reinstated and limits have been lifted from the profiles. No information about the number of accounts affected or the reason for the error was given.

Activists have expressed scepticism about Facebook’s explanation and feel it’s weird that the incident occurred just before their event. Moreover, Jennifer Wickham, an activist whose account was frozen, expressed mirth on hearing the explanation, saying that it seems like a blatant corporate move, and calling it a mistake was a weak backpedal.

Coastal GasLink disbursed a huge amount on Facebook ads between January and March. According to an analysis, those against the construction spent only $3,000 in comparison. The natural gas pipeline will go through Indigenous territory in northern British Columbia. Protests against the pipeline have received worldwide attention after the police arrested protestors who were blocking a path in the Wet’suwet’en area to bar the entry of construction crews.

After the pandemic hit, the only way the protestors could spread the message was through online platforms. This is where Facebook came into the picture. However, even after the suspension, activists are continuing the next communications blockade, rescheduled for the 28th of September. Wickham said that the fight was for clean water for children, for the future, and for the health of the territory.