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Were the #Walkaway Campaign Facebook Ban and Epoch Times Youtube Demonetization Ideologically Motivated?

#WalkAway Campaign Allegations

The page of the over 500,000-strong #WalkAway movement was deleted by Facebook on January 8, 2021 claiming violation of terms of use without specifically identifying the violation.  #WalkAway is a movement which encourages individuals to leave the Democratic Party.  #WalkAway founder Brandon Straka wrote:

 

“FACEBOOK has removed the #WalkAway Campaign and has BANNED ME and EVERY MEMBER of my team!!! Over half a million people in #WalkAway with hundreds of thousands of testimonial videos and stories is GONE. Facebook has banned everything related to #WalkAway.”(1) 

 

Later in January, Straka was arrested on charges of “interfering with police during a civil disorder," unlawful entry into a restricted building, and disorderly conduct during the Capitol riot on January 6, 2020.(2) The FBI was sent multiple screenshots from Straka’s Twitter feed (subsequently deleted) and videos showing that he encouraged others to enter the Capitol and to take away a police officer’s shield. The #WalkAway campaign subsequently migrated to CloutHub, where in late March 2020 it listed just over 54,000 members, about one-tenth of its prior numbers.

 

Epoch Times Allegations

Also in January 2021, the Epoch Times, a growing conservative newspaper, was demonetized by YouTube.(3) The publisher of the Epoch Times wrote: “This is the latest example of big tech suppression of free speech, a step on the road to communist- style censorship." The outlet did not disclose which alleged violations resulted in their demonetization, whether prior warnings were received, or what specific details were provided by YouTube.

 

Search of the Epoch Times’ website demonstrates that the Epoch Times has previously run stories skeptical of mask-wearing and other public health measures for coronavirus.  It has routinely referred to covid-19 as the “CCP [Chinese Communist Party] virus and promoted theories widely rejected by public health agencies that the covid-19 virus allegedly originated in a bioweapons laboratory in China.  While we do not have access to specific reasons for the ban, these statements would appear to fall under YouTube’s COVID-19 medical misinformation policy.(4)

 

Bans were Not Ideologically Based

Neither of these claims of “purges” against conservatives appears to have been ideologically-based. While purging a group with over 500,000 members with no prior warnings may appear severe, this purge is explained by documented conduct of the group’s founder, who encouraged others to enter the Capitol and interfered with police during the riot of January 6, 2021, and may have incited others to do so on social media. 

 

Some have alleged discrepant standards, noting that prosecutors nationwide refused to charge BLM rioters throughout the summer of 2020 and leftist groups even raised money to bail out those arrested. The New York Times noted that prosecutors declined to charge thousands arrested in BLM riots, concluding that they were “exercising their basic civil rights.”(5) Nor did left-leaning media rush to the defense of Capitol rioters to point out that the overwhelming majority were not violent radicals, as some outlets did with the BLM riots.(6) Nonetheless, insurrection in the US Capitol ought to be taken very seriously, and Facebook’s ban on the #WalkAway page appears to have been justified.

 

While less information is available regarding the specific reason for the demonetization of the Epoch Times’ YouTube channel, various of the paper’s articles appear to violate the COVID-19 medical misinformation policy. Youtube’s stated policies also suggest that the Epoch Times likely would have received prior written warnings, and the publishers have since acknowledged that the ban was “expected.”  They also would have had opportunity to remedy any deficiencies and appeal within 30 days according to YouTube’s stated policy. 

 

Supporters may argue that the Epoch Times should have enjoyed freedom of speech and press to share contrary information and perspectives. Yet the public health risks of the spread of potential misinformation are considerable. YouTube’s policies are clear. The Times’ publisher appears to have been aware that they were running afoul of YouTube’s terms of service, but failed to make meaningful remedy. 

 

Claims that the #WalkAway Campaign’s banning from Facebook or the Epoch Times’ demonetization on YouTube were ideologically motivated appear to be untrue based on our review of the evidence. The #WalkAway Campaign was banned due to activities of its founder and likely use of the platform during the Capitol Riot, whereas the Epoch Times’ breaches of Youtube’s COVID-19 Medical Misinformation Policy would appear to provide grounds for its demonetization.

 

References

1. Ernst, Douglas. “Brandon Straka, 500K-strong 'Walk Away' page banned by Facebook: 'Every member of my team!'” Washington Times, January 8, 2021. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2021/jan/8/brandon-straka-500k-strong-walk-away-page-banned-b/ 

2. “Omaha FBI agents arrest founder of WalkAway Campaign for actions during U.S. Capitol attack.” KETV, January 26, 2021. https://www.ketv.com/article/fbi-agents-arrest-omaha-man-for-actions-during-us-capitol-attack/35311895 

3. Sheffield, Carrie. “YouTube strips rising media company Epoch Times of ability to monetize video content.” Just the News, January 21, 2021. https://justthenews.com/nation/technology/youtube-strips-rising-media-company-epoch-times-ability-monetize-video-content 

4. “Youtube COVID-19 medical misinformation policy.” Google [undated]. https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/9891785?hl=en (accessed March 29, 2021).

5. MacFarquhar, Neal. "Why Charges Against Protesters Are Being Dismissed by the Thousands." New York Times, November 19, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/19/us/protests-lawsuits-arrests.html

6. Richer, Alanna Durking, Colleen Long and Michale Balsamo.  "AP finds most arrested in protests aren’t leftist radicals." AP News, October 20, 2020. https://apnews.com/article/virus-outbreak-race-and-ethnicity-suburbs-health-racial-injustice-7edf9027af1878283f3818d96c54f748