All posts by Midnightschildren

Want fair elections? Help us protest Facebook.


by Ted Lewis and Tracy Rosenberg. Originally printed in the SF Examiner

Facebook looms over our coming elections, and not in a good way. The giant media company has tremendous power and influence — and a bad track record.

In 2016, Facebook was successfully used as part of multi-faceted election interference campaign. Called to account by Congress, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg claimed that Russian ad buys and other efforts had little electoral impact in 2016, but the company later admitted that disinformation had reached 150 million Facebook and Instagram users in the United States.

The 2020 elections are already underway and protecting them now means more than deciding which candidates to support or pushing for ballot measures we believe in. This time, trust in our elections — the beating heart of our democracy – is at risk.

That is why protesting Facebook’s irresponsible policies is so urgent.

As a global media platform with billions of users, Facebook has the terrifying power to make or break the integrity of our elections. And in the near term are the only ones who can prevent the platform from being used to disrupt our elections — and elections around the world.

And while the Russian use of Facebook to interfere in the 2016 US elections is the most well-documented case of the company’s facilitation of efforts to sow discord, divisiveness, and disinformation, it is certainly not the only one.

In 2018, Facebook conceded its platform had been used to spread hate speech and disinformation that incited violence in Myanmar. The company commissioned a report about its role in human rights violations against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, which stated that “Facebook has become a means for those seeking to spread hate and cause harm, and posts have been linked to offline violence.” Again in 2019, Facebook was used to amplify hate speech, harassment, and calls for violence in India against caste, religious, gender and queer minorities. The authors of a recent report by Equality Labs warn that without urgent intervention, hate speech on Facebook in India could trigger large-scale communal violence in that country.

Here in the US we must make sure Facebook does not again become a megaphone for disinformation and hate speech during the 2020 election.

But Facebook CEO Zuckerberg has made it clear that won’t be easy. Last October he announced the company would allow politicians and political parties to openly lie in their advertisements – meaning that Facebook now holds paid political advertisements to a lower standard than all others.

The time has surely come for Facebook’s monopoly to be broken up, but that is not going to happen before November 2020. So in the meantime it is up to us to pressure them directly. Corporations are susceptible to mass public pressure, and Facebook is no different. They don’t want their brand to be tarnished or to lose advertisers.

We have to start somewhere and conveniently, Facebook headquarters is in the San Francisco Bay Area, where there’s a long tradition of pressuring companies for change—whether to stop Gap and Nike from using sweatshop labor or convince Starbucks to buy coffee from Fair Trade farmers.

That’s why, on January 9, we’re kicking off a campaign that brings together human rights groups, media advocacy organizations, corporate campaigners and fed-up Facebook users to adopt the policies recommended by Facebook’s own employees in this public letter and to implement policies that discourage online hate, such as those recommended by Change the Terms.

Locally, we’ll be protesting outside of Facebook’s Menlo Park corporate headquarters under the banner, “Save Our Democracy: Protest Facebook.” Online, we’ll be “blacking out” Facebook on January 9 by replacing our Facebook cover and profile photos with a completely black box.

Some people say we should just abandon Facebook once and for all. But we’re not willing to cede a communications network that reaches billions of people to the unfettered practices of a corporation that cares more about its profits than about our democracy. Please join us in this fight.

Ted Lewis is the human rights director of Global Exchange. Tracy Rosenberg is the executive director of Media Alliance.


Facebook Faces Twin Protests in New Year


by John Ferrannini Bay Area Reporter

California activists are planning twin protests against Facebook, even as the Menlo Park-based tech giant is facing criticism from a San Mateo County supervisor over profiting off user data after years of controversies involving the LGBT community.

“Save Our Democracy, Protest Facebook” is a two-hour protest scheduled for January 9 at 4 p.m. at Facebook’s headquarters at 1600 Willow Road (Building 10, closest to the Facebook sign) in Menlo Park on the Peninsula.

The protest is being sponsored by more than a dozen organizations, according to Andrea Buffa, a straight ally and “frustrated Facebook user” who initiated the protest and is a lead organizer.

“I was sitting around at Thanksgiving talking with family and friends expressing incredible frustration at Facebook for its most recent policy to allow politicians to blatantly lie in their ads,” Buffa said in a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter. “I decided to reach out to a couple of organizations, to Media Alliance, to see what we can do.”

Tracy Rosenberg, a straight ally who is the executive director of Media Alliance, said that she is “hoping some Facebook employees will come out and join us.”

“We know these are issues they care about,” Rosenberg wrote in an email to the B.A.R. “And this isn’t going to be a one-time thing — it’s going to be just the beginning of a pressure campaign to get Facebook to stop allowing lies and hatred to be spread using its platform.”

Rosenberg said that she expects to have a better idea of how many people are going to join the in-person protest after New Year’s Day.

“We know the exasperation with Facebook is widespread,” Rosenberg said. “It remains to be seen how many people think going to Facebook’s door and saying something directly will make a difference.”

The other January 9 protest is a Facebook “blackout,” which was started by Andrew Arentowicz of Los Angeles.

Arentowicz is asking people to turn their Facebook profile pictures black for 48 hours “to demonstrate the overwhelming opposition to your reckless political ad policy,” according to an open letter to Facebook on the blackout’s website.

“Usually you can’t tell when people are ‘blacking out’ a company by staying off of a platform in protest, but we’re hoping that this idea of blacking out your cover photo and profile photo will really appeal to people because it’s something visible,” Rosenberg said. “We don’t expect it to be the last and it is growing over time. We expect a series of these online actions to continue to grow as we move closer to the 2020 election.”

Rosenberg said that the Facebook blackout has a Facebook event page, but that Facebook won’t let the organizers run ads to promote it, claiming a violation of its ad policy.

No stranger to controversy
Facebook, of course, is no stranger to controversy. It has been criticized for allegedly inconsistent policies regarding ads and political messages and blocking drag queens, trans people, and others from using their preferred names.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before congressional committees in 2018 and 2019 over concerns about user privacy and his intention to create a cryptocurrency, Libra.

While on Capitol Hill, he also faced questions about how Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm assisting in the 2016 Republican presidential campaign of Donald Trump, harvested the personal information of tens of millions of Facebook users without their knowledge and used it for political purposes.

In the 2019 hearing, Zuckerberg had a heated exchange with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) that clarified that false political advertising is allowed on Facebook. It is this policy that has led directly to the upcoming protests.

Relations with LGBTs strained
As the B.A.R. previously reported, in 2018 Facebook banned the GLBT Historical Society, which runs the GLBT History Museum at 4127 18th Street in the Castro, from boosting a post about “Fighting Back: Transgender Rights Activism,” a community forum on the history of trans activism, because the society’s page had “not been authorized to run ads with political content.”

A year earlier, Facebook rejected an ad from the society seeking volunteers for the Folsom Street Fair.

Terry Beswick, a gay man who is the executive director of the society, said he would not comment for this story; but Rosenberg said that what happened was an example of Facebook doing “too little, too late for so many groups of people whose policies it has harmed.”

“Zuckerberg has wrapped himself in the mantle of free speech when he wants to let politicians lie in their ads and let extremism and hate speech run wild, but at the same time the company regularly won’t allow nonprofit organizations to boost posts on ‘political’ issues like a transgender rights seminar,” Rosenberg said.

Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence echoed that sentiment.

“It sounds to me like Facebook is refusing to add the manpower to fact check the advertising and therefore denying any accountability for the content of those ads,” Sister Roma wrote in an email to the B.A.R. Monday, December 23. “It’s lazy and shameful.”

Sister Roma was part of a dust-up with Facebook several years ago. Facebook required individuals to use legal names while setting up accounts, a policy that many transgender people and drag performers found inappropriate.

After a September 17, 2014 meeting that included Sister Roma, Facebook decided not to change the policy but it did apologize to the LGBT community for the harm that was done and promised to change how the policy is enforced.

“We didn’t get everything we wanted, but the #MyNameIs team did have a great impact on Facebook’s understanding of queer and trans identity,” Sister Roma wrote. “As a direct result of our activism, Facebook implemented changes to the way a profile can be reported for having a ‘fake’ name. We also got them to add an appeals process that includes a provision for being LGBTQ — which was a huge accomplishment. People are still getting flagged and suspended but it’s much better.”

Sister Roma stopped short of endorsing the January 9 protests, but encouraged LGBT activism and involvement.

“I absolutely think that LGBT people should support and participate in this protest — and any and all protests — that interest them,” Sister Roma wrote. “Our civil rights, our freedom, our very LIVES are at stake with every election, especially the one approaching in 2020.”

Data dividend
In a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom Friday, December 20, District 5 San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa, a straight ally, said that companies that make money off the personal information of their users, like Facebook, should either “pay out” or users should “log out.”

“The data dividend could either be distributed to the consumer directly or put into a fund that would then be redistributed to the working poor and middle class,” Canepa wrote in an email to the B.A.R. Thursday, December 26.

The idea of companies paying Americans a dividend on the money their data produces picked up steam in 2019, with Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang discussing it at length in the primary debates and Newsom himself endorsing the idea.

“It’s a lofty idea but when you look at Facebook being a 500 billion dollar company because it peddles in our data, then I think some of that revenue should be given back to us,” Canepa said. “It’s like the oil dividend in Alaska.”

Canepa was also critical of Facebook’s policies as they relate to LGBTs.

“I think Facebook needs to take a deep look at itself when it arbitrarily decides to deem LGBTQ-themed ads as political,” he said. “Transgender people are the most discriminated against group in America. They should be able to communicate on social media and have a sense of safety.”

Facebook and Newsom’s office did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.


Anti-Muslim Hate Group Uses Same Name as State-Funded PVE Program


California’s new counter-terrorism via social services program, Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE), which is a state version of the federal Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program, has run into a big problem.

A hate speech problem. A group called the Clarion Project, identified by both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Center for American Progress as an Anti-Muslim hate group, has decided to get in on the preventing extremism project.

Clarion announced their *own” Preventing Violent Extremism program, a 21-city community outreach program focused on schools and targeting some of the same Southern California communities in San Bernardino and Orange County that will have state-funded programs with the same name.

The Clarion Project is most well-known for two things: hyperbolic documentary films and its Fox News security analyst, Ryan Mauro. One of Clarion Project’s documentaries Obsession, Radical Islam’s War on the West made national headlines when 28 million DVD copies were distributed in 70 print newspapers in battleground states in 2008, just weeks before the presidential election that year. Most observers considered it a political ploy to attempt to tie then candidate Barack Obama to Islamic fundamentalism.

Clarion’s “security analyst” Ryan Mauro, who doubles as a Fox News contributor, made claims in 2013 on national news about Muslim “no-go zones” in Europe and the United States. His discredited claims later led to a foiled bomb attack on a Black Muslim community in upstate New York.

California’s vendors include HADI, a long-time NSA contractor, the Orange County Human Relations Commission, San Diego 2-1-1 and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

CVE/PVE wasn’t a good idea before it got co-opted by an anti-Muslim hate group. Now it’s worse.




A Nonprofit Alliance Becomes an Ally of Big Telecom


How well-meaning, public-serving groups wound up as part of an alliance aimed at undermining state regulation of broadband and privacy laws.


Originally published in 48 Hills.

It’s not unusual for businesses to spend princely sums lobbying government to free them from regulations, which generally means consumer protections are reduced or eliminated.  In a nutshell, that’s much of what goes on in the halls of government, as we’ve previously reported.

But it is a bit more unconventional when a self-described coalition of nonprofit organizations promotes the same agenda as large telecom companies, putting consumers at the short end of the stick.

Continue reading A Nonprofit Alliance Becomes an Ally of Big Telecom

Tsuru For Solidarity Pilgrimage To Close The Camps


125,000 paper cranes to DC in June 2020 for Tsuru for Solidarity’s
“National Pilgrimage to Close the Camps”

From Tsuru For Solidarity’s Press Release:

Japanese Americans from across the country will gather next spring in Washington, D.C. on June 5-7, 2020 for a “National Pilgrimage to Close the Camps.” We plan to bring 125,000 paper cranes, or tsuru, as expressions of solidarity with immigrant and refugee communities that are under attack today. The 125,000 cranes represent the members of our community who were rounded up and incarcerated in U.S. concentration camps during World War II, including both Japanese Americans and Japanese Latin Americans.

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Close The Camps at Palantir 9/13


Bay Area activists continue to picket and protest at the headquarters of Palantir Technologies, the Palo Alto software company powering the Trump Administration’s deportation regime.

On one of the hottest days of the year, protestors rallied at the company’s Palo Alto building, covered the ubiquitous security cameras with umbrellas, and marched to (one of) Palantir CEO Alex Karp’s houses in Palo Alto to deliver a petition with 140,000 signatures asking Palantir to stop working for ICE.

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Astroturf Nonprofit Group Guns For Privacy-Friendly State Senator


In a shocking letter, a newly incorporated group calling itself the Nonprofit Alliance has called for the removal of jurisdiction over statewide privacy legislation from the California State Senate’s Judiciary committee, chaired by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson.

The request, which Senate Speaker Toni Atkins says “is not being considered”, called for the realignment due to the committee’s amendments of industry bills to weaken California’s consumer privacy act. CCPA is the only comprehensive statewide consumer privacy legislation in the country. Often referred to as America’s GDPR, the CCPA is scheduled to go into effect in 2020.

Continue reading Astroturf Nonprofit Group Guns For Privacy-Friendly State Senator