Facebook briefly blocked hundreds of environmentalist accounts “by mistake,” days after launching an effort to combat climate science misinformation. The groups were about to launch a campaign against Canada’s pipeline project.
The list of organizations that had their accounts temporarily banned by the social media giant includes mostly US-based environmentalist and indigenous groups such as Presente.org, Rainforest Action Network and Rising Tide North America.
A group called Climate Hawks Vote, which lately has spared no effort to promote a group of Democrats running for the US Senate, made it on the list as well. As did Greenpeace USA – a development that prompted its parent organization to reproach Facebook in a damning statement.
All the affected accounts were suspended due to a “copyright infringement,” Greenpeace revealed while criticizing Facebook for not providing a more “satisfactory explanation.”
The social media giant, which kept the environmentalist pages blocked for about two days last weekend, promptly apologized and blamed the incident on a technical glitch. “Our systems mistakenly removed these accounts and content. They have since been restored and we’ve lifted any limits imposed on identified profiles,” a company spokesperson said in a statement.
However, the company still faced accusations of supporting “fascist” and “colonialist” forces because it turned out that all the blocked accounts were linked to a prolonged protest against a gas pipeline project in Canada’s British Columbia.
The Coastal GasLink (CGL) seeks to build a 670 km (416 mile) pipeline to the coast that is expected to go through the lands of the indigenous people known as Wet’suwet’en (People of the Wa Dzun Kwuh River). The CGL says it obtained consent from elected tribal officials but the deal is disputed by the hereditary chiefs, whose status Canada does not recognize.
The pipeline project is worth $4.9 billion ($6.6 billion CAD) and has been in the works since 2012, but the hereditary chiefs have repeatedly attempted to stop it with blockades and protests. All of the groups that Facebook recently suspended hosted an online event targeting CGL’s majority funder KKR & Co. Inc. last May.
Their accounts were blocked just ahead of another online event, which prompted Greenpeace and some indigenous leaders to accuse the social media giant of political and corporate bias.
“Fossil fuel companies and their funders will use every tool in their toolbox to attempt to silence us,” said Annie Leonard, the Executive Director of Greenpeace USA. “Enlisting powerful and underregulated tech giants to do their bidding and silence dissent might be the latest tool.”
Meanwhile, the Wet’suwet’en Solidarity Team stated that the fact that the social media giant “immediately bans the administrators and moderators from dozens of groups due to a complaint from a corporation, shows Facebook’s true colors.”
The company has not addressed these accusations. The developments come just days after Facebook announced it is launching what it called a “Climate Science Information Center” aimed at “connecting people to accurate, expert advice and information during a global crisis.”
It also vowed to tackle “climate misinformation” in a similar way to how it tackles what it deems “fake news” – by “partnering” with “more than 70 independent fact-checking organizations globally, covering more than 60 languages” and reducing the distribution of content “debunked” by them.
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