Facebook has been trying to position itself as a force for good when it comes to the environment. Earlier this month, the company announced a plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions across its entire operation by 2030. It also launched a new information hub to help provide fact checks and fight misinformation about the very real effects of human-caused climate change. But over the weekend, the platform silenced some of the groups that should be its biggest allies in these goals, temporarily suspending a number of accounts and pages operated by environmental activists.
According to Greenpeace USA, which had its account suspended, there were "hundreds of individual accounts" that were restricted by Facebook over the weekend. Many of those accounts were linked to Indigenous, environmental, and social justice organizations. The suspended users and groups also participated in an online event hosted on Facebook in May that targeted American investment group KKR & Co. Inc., which recently became the biggest investor in a major pipeline project in Canada that’s slated to cut through the land of Indigenous people. Another event aiming to block the construction of the pipeline was created on Facebook and planned for later this month. Many of the accounts that had participated in the previous event and were involved in the upcoming one were hit with suspensions.
Many of the users who were affected were informed by Facebook that the suspension was the result of claims of "copyright infringement" or "intellectual property rights violation." The suspensions locked the users out of their accounts for three days. Facebook claims that the restrictions were unintentional. "Our systems mistakenly removed these accounts and content. They have since been restored and we've lifted any limits imposed on identified profiles,” Daniel Roberts, a spokesperson for Facebook, tells Mic.
According to Greenpeace, some of the accounts hit with suspensions over the weekend included Climate Hawks Vote, Presente.org, Rainforest Action Network, Rising Tide North America, Seeding Sovereignty, Stand.earth, United For Respect, Wet'suwet'en Access Point on Gidimt'en Territory, and Wet’suwet’en Solidarity UK. When asked, Facebook would not provide any additional details regarding the accounts suspended. Greenpeace also has reported that some of the affected accounts still have not had the suspensions fully lifted and the company has yet to provide an adequate explanation as to why these accounts were hit with copyright claims in the first place.
"Actions speak louder than words and once again Facebook has taken actions that are in stark contrast to public statements from the company," Elizabeth Jardim, Greenpeace USA Senior Corporate Campaigner, tells Mic. "The recent bans targeting people fighting to save their communities from climate change and the continued exploitation of fossil fuel companies show us that when push comes to shove Facebook will side with polluters at the cost of their users trying to organize."
While Facebook has chalked the incident up to an accident, the timing could not have been worse. The affected activists were left unable to communicate and organize just days before a scheduled event targeting KKR & Co.'s ongoing efforts to construct the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a 420 mile-long gas pipeline that would stretch across British Columbia. Part of the pipeline is planned to be constructed within the territory occupied by the Wet’suwet’en nation, a group of Indigenous people who have called Northern British Columbia home for thousands of years. The event, organized on Facebook, encouraged people to support Wet’suwet’en sovereignty and protest the pipeline project by contacting KKR & Co. and political leaders to encourage them to stop construction.
The Coastal GasLink pipeline has been in the works for eight years now, after first being announced in 2012. It has faced significant pushback since its inception, including growing legal challenges and organized protests. Earlier this year, protesters shut down Canada's railway system for weeks as a show of protest over the construction of the pipeline, which led to a number of arrests. The protests organized on Facebook likely will be less disruptive, at least to the actual operation, but may cause a headache for those in the offices of KKR & Co. as they are flooded with messages and calls from activists demanding construction not cut into Wet’suwet’en land. That is, assuming there aren't any more mistakes on Facebook's end that prevent the event from happening.