When Facebook Bans Peaceful Anarchists But Not The Violent State
This piece was co-authored with Nathan Goodman.

“The state calls its own violence law, but that of the individual crime.” – Max Stirner

On August 19th, 2020, Facebook finally buckled under immense social and political pressure and announced new content moderation rules focusing on “violent organizations and individuals,” specifically “offline anarchist groups that support violent acts amidst protests, US-based militia organizations [which apparently includes “Antifa”], and QAnon.” These sweeping rules follow a months-long campaign on the part of fearmongering U.S. politicians to blame the recent popular uprisings against intractable police brutality on “outside agitators” and “professional anarchists.” 

The day Facebook announced their new policies, both of us and two of our colleagues at the Center for a Stateless Society had our personal Facebook accounts indefinitely disabled. Together we had served as administrators of a Facebook page that articulated a leftist case for gun rights called “Leftists for Self Defense and Firearm Freedom.” Facebook removed that page on the same day they announced the new policy and disabled our accounts. Unfortunately, none of us have received any communication from Facebook regarding their reasons for these actions, so inferring causality here requires some amount of conjecture. 

“Leftists for Self Defense and Firearm Freedom” was created on November 5, 2013 in order to highlight problems with gun control that are underappreciated within mainstream political discussion. Gun control laws are enforced by the American criminal justice system, with all its attendant biases and structural inequities. The result is that African Americans are disproportionately likely to be sent to prison due to gun control. Gun control proposals that are often called “common sense,” such as background checks and proposals to use the “No Fly List” to restrict firearm access, also disproportionately restrict marginalized people. As prison abolitionists like Dean Spade argue, “When we have a conversation about gun violence that ignores the realities of state violence, it often produces proposals that further marginalize and criminalize people of color, poor people, people with disabilities, immigrants and youth.”

Yet these issues with gun control are not discussed in mainstream debates. On one side, we see center left commentators who profess concerns about marginalized people but support gun control. On the other side, we see right-wing commentators who claim to support gun rights, but favor forms of state violence that undermine gun rights and rights to self-defense, such as the war on drugs For instance, every no-knock raid is a home invasion that risks turning a gun owner defending their home into either a murder victim or an accused murderer. The case of Matthew David Stewart illustrates this. A veteran with PTSD, Matthew had fired back at police who invaded his home in an early morning drug raid. The raid was aimed at finding marijuana, which he grew to self-medicate for his PTSD. Police and prosecutors smeared Matthew in the press and sought to convict him of aggravated murder. Before any verdict could be reached, he died in jail in an apparent suicide. He died for no crime besides growing marijuana and defending his home. Gun rights and rights to self-defense are not secure in a world where that happens.

In the early days of the page, we sought to highlight self-defense cases that did not involve firearms. For instance, we called for freedom for CeCe McDonald, a trans woman of color who had been incarcerated for defending herself from a hate crime. We also supported the work of the Michigan Women’s Justice and Clemency Project, which seeks to free women who are incarcerated for defending themselves from abusive partners. What these cases so tragically illustrate is that empowering the carceral state is often deeply counter-productive to the goals of feminists seeking to liberate women from pervasive violence. 

We began posting with renewed urgency in the wake of the police murder of Philando Castile, a Minnesota man who was murdered in front of his girlfriend and her daughter for legally carrying a concealed handgun. Castile followed the exact training he was given in order to receive his Minnesota concealed carry license. But because he was a Black man, the law saw things differently, and officer Jeronimo Yanez shot him several times within seconds of their initial encounter. In an egregious case of state violence, the white supremacist institution that is U.S. policing saw fit to summarily execute an individual for lawfully exercising his right to armed self-defense.The deafening silence from the right-of-center gun rights crowd was outrageous and remains so to this day, especially in light of the no-knock raid that murdered Breonna Taylor and the (now abandoned) prosecution of her boyfriend who shot back at the masked plainclothes home invaders who had just murdered his girlfriend.

As admins we mostly just shared memes and the occasional article profiling a John Brown Gun Club or Redneck Revolt group. We highlighted how groups like the Black Panthers were victims of racist gun control under Reagan. We also illustrated how foundational figures of leftist thought advocated gun rights as integral to the liberation of the working class. Marx himself argued, “Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary.”

This seemed sufficient to have our page removed and our personal accounts disabled indefinitely without warning and with no indication that we were in violation of Terms of Service. We weren’t the only people wrongly targeted by Facebook’s latest crackdown. Other victims of this new content policy include antifascist news outlets ItsGoingDown and CrimethInc.

However, Facebook had the self-interested foresight to codify exemptions for state violence into its content rules with built-in loopholes that carve out convenient exceptions for states and state actors:  “…any non-state actor or group that qualifies as a dangerous individual or organization will be banned from our platform.” 

So the following are apparently indications of danger beyond the pale in the eyes of Facebook:

  • Talking about the racist history of gun control
  • Advocating marginalized communities like trans women or people of color take up arms in self-defense in the face of creeping fascism
  • Supporting efforts at freeing women wrongfully imprisoned by the carceral state
  • Standing up for the gun rights of Black people

Whereas, the following apparently carry no indication of danger in the eyes of Facebook:

These new rules are an unsettling escalation in the concerted effort to deplatform and disrupt those engaged in decentralized organizing against rising authoritarianism. It’s plainly dubious to include leftist gun rights groups with far-right QAnon conspiracy theorists or violent neo-nazi gangs such as the Proud Boys. Facebook’s new policies reveal the moral bankruptcy of “both-sidesism.” Treating those organizing against white supremacy as morally equivalent to white supremacists is a flawed understanding of public discourse at best and an effective strategy to uphold the white supremacist status quo at worst.

While leftist gun rights advocates were being deplatformed under the auspices of targeting QAnon disinformation and right-wing militias, the President of the United States was extolling the virtues of QAnon adherents in the White House Press Briefing Room. Perhaps worst of all, the President is perfectly free to continue using Facebook to promote the most brutal of state violence, such as deportation, imprisonment, and bombings. 

This content policy shift portends a potential future where social media giants are compelled to act as content moderators of their behemoth platforms. That future is made more likely by the recent Congressional efforts to erode Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which shields publishers like Facebook from being punished for content produced on their sites by users. These companies will likely err on the side of caution which will lead to similar policies omitting important voices from public discourse. It is unlikely that Facebook’s deplatforming of antifascist organizations will receive the same attention as commentators “cancelled” for opinions shared on their talk shows or regular news columns. Calls for more heavily policed speech will invariably end up silencing those with the least amount of resources and those deemed politically inconvenient and not worth defending.

A cursory glance at the headlines suggests that Facebook is only targeting groups affiliated with QAnon. They’re doing much more than that. Anarchists, anti-authoritarians, anti-fascists, and anti-racists are also facing abrupt deactivation without warning or explanation. While Facebook justifies these new bans in the name of stopping “violence,” they simultaneously let advocates of state violence use their platform unimpeded. 

Mark Zuckerberg agrees with Max Stirner that, “The state calls its own violence law, but that of the individual crime,” but where Stirner takes this as reason to condemn the state and uphold the individual, Zuckerberg instead takes this as reason to condemn the individual and uphold the state. Whatever content policies Facebook concocts, we mustn’t let any social media behemoth dissuade us from the all-too-urgent project of revealing state violence for what it truly is. 

They can only obscure the violence of the state for as long as we let them. 

And they’re on the back foot.

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