Facebook Removing Some Pages Organizing Protests of Stay-at-Home Orders

April 20, 2020 Updated: April 21, 2020

Facebook is removing some pages used to organize protests of quarantine measures implemented by governors across the nation.

Thousands of people have joined protests in recent days against executive orders mandating that people largely stay at home, many of which have been in place since last month.

A Facebook spokesperson told The Epoch Times on April 20 that the company will let organizers use Facebook to organize events if they follow social distancing guidelines but will remove pages that don’t.

“Unless government prohibits the event during this time, we allow it to be organized on Facebook. For this same reason, events that defy government’s guidance on social distancing aren’t allowed on Facebook,” the spokesperson said in an email.

Event organizers are required to clearly tell attendees that relevant social distancing guidance should be followed. State officials can contact Facebook to let the company know about social distancing guidance in their state.

The spokesperson said Facebook has removed pages planning protests in several states. She declined to name the states.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also said on April 20 that pages organizing protests in violation of social distancing measures will be removed from the technology platform.

Epoch Times Photo
A page organizing a protest in Pennsylvania. (Screenshot/Facebook)

“How do you deal with the fact that Facebook is now being used to organize a lot of these protests to defy social distancing guidelines in states?” George Stephanopoulos, former Bill Clinton aide and current ABC anchor, asked Zuckerberg on “Good Morning America.” “If somebody trying to organize something like that, does that qualify as harmful misinformation?”

“We do classify that as harmful misinformation, and we take that down,” Zuckerberg said.

“At the same time, it’s important that people can debate policies, so there’s a line on this, you know, more than normal political discourse. I think a lot of the stuff that people are saying that is false around a health emergency like this can be classified as harmful misinformation.”

Social distancing mandates contributed to millions of Americans losing their jobs, and many protesters cited unemployment or economic fears as the main impetus for protesting, along with concerns of rights violations.

Most governors haven’t yet outlined firm reopening plans; some instead extended the measures into May.

Texas, Ohio, and South Carolina are among the few states confirming dates for phased reopenings.

Epoch Times Photo
People take part in a protest for “Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine” at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., on April 15, 2020. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images)

Targeting ‘Misinformation’

Facebook has been widely targeting articles, posts, and events during the pandemic, trying to position itself as a neutral arbiter of “misinformation.” In March, Facebook displayed warnings to users on 40 million posts, removing hundreds of thousands it deemed harmful.

The company said last week it would start notifying people who interacted with harmful claims about the pandemic from China, utilizing the World Health Organization, which has been linked to the Chinese Communist Party, as a source.

The Epoch Times has faced censorship on reporting about a laboratory in Wuhan, based on an article written by a researcher who worked there. Facebook has promised $1 million in grants to organizations that do so-called fact checks as well as $100 million in investments to support journalists.

Twitter, Google, and other technology platforms have taken similar steps as Facebook, worrying some experts.

“As a matter of public health, these moves are entirely prudent. But as a matter of free speech, the platforms’ unconstrained power to change the rules virtually overnight is deeply disconcerting,” Evelyn Douek, an affiliate at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, wrote in an article for The Atlantic.

“Unlike most countries’ emergency constitutions, those of major platforms have no checks or constraints. Are these emergency powers temporary? Will there be any oversight to ensure these powers are being exercised proportionately and evenhandedly? Are data being collected to assess the effectiveness of these measures or their cost to society, and will those data be available to independent researchers?”

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber