By Oscar Alfaro Shady, one of the so-called “Digital Warriors” now banned for life by Meta.
On February 23rd, Meta published a report of “adversary threats”, which is a euphemism to justify the massive removal of accounts in a country.
Bolivia became its latest victim. Without prior warning, 1,041 Facebook accounts, 450 Pages, 14 Groups and 130 Instagram accounts were deleted in December 2022. All the banned accounts belonged to supporters of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS-IPSP), the party of government. Those who have been banned have not been able to return. The excuse given is to accuse us of ‘coordinated inauthentic behavior’.
The basis of this report needs to be debunked. To begin with, the accusation of “coordinated inauthentic behavior” is a concept based on convenience-oriented algorithms. However, such algorithms cannot discern simple social and group behavior. In the case of Bolivia, activists have utilized social media as a platform to provide an alternative to the national media which is dominated by right-wing groups.
So, under what criteria do Facebook security experts judge who is ‘independent media’, and who is not? Why are accounts that are verified with a national ID considered fake? Another accusation against us is that we have ‘mass reported’ false content reported by national media outlets and that the mass reporting is ‘evidence’ of our coordinated inauthentic behavior. Surely we have a right to report false content? Why is this a punishable offense? Nowhere in Meta’s conditions of service is it prohibited to flag news that one considers false.
Is Meta taking sides?
In Meta’s report justifying the censorship of our accounts, they claim that it’s to defend “members of the opposition”. However, Meta allows those same “members of the opposition” to publish hate speech and racial discrimination. They are an undemocratic minority that refuse to respect the outcome of the 2020 elections.
Meta has also accused us of operating “bunkers” to spread our message. Their evidence is that numerous accounts in the same location were posting similar messages. Meta needs to explain why it is irregular for 100 or more people across an entire city to voice support for a political ideology and search for related web pages. Is it illegal to be an activist online? Mark Zuckerberg himself has said: “Facebook was created to defend freedom of expression (..) to give everyone a voice, to empower the powerless and push society to be better, the services can be used by protesters and activists all over the world as it is supported by a strong encryption system and privacy protections.”
Despite what was written in the report, none of those who’ve been banned were hiding their real names. We had two-step verification with photo ID. In response, Meta has called us “Digital Warriors” a term that is only used in Bolivia by right-wing opposition groups to describe social activists. We have never hidden our personal political affiliation, indeed we are registered as members of the MAS-IPSP with our country’s electoral authority.
It should be emphasized that those of us who’ve been banned have not been given the right to download the content on our own pages, accumulated over years. This includes photos of our friends and family, photos that marked our youth and milestones in life. Facebook has always offered the option to download this content when they close an account for breaching the terms of service. We have been denied that right.
Meanwhile, the representatives of Facebook in Bolivia, Cisneros Interactive, are involved in numerous legal cases here, including the “Phantom Advertising” scandal where they’re accused of colluding with the right-wing governor of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, to divert 700,000 Bs in public funds meant for Covid-19 information campaigns into political ads for their party.
Now comes the creepy part, Meta’s cyber intelligence officer, and one of the authors of this recent report, Mike Torrey, worked at the NSA from 2003 to 2006 when that agency spied on its own citizens and the entire planet. Torrey then went on to become a high-ranking official at the CIA from 2010 to 2018 , specializing in cyberwarfare against China, Russia, and other official enemies of the US State Department.
In Nicaragua in 2021, the same modus operandi was used when they removed accounts of hundreds of the country’s leading media outlets, journalists, and activists all of whom supported the leftist Sandinista government less than a week before the presidential elections. This campaign of censorship was led by Ben Nimmo who is the “Global Threat Intelligence Lead” at Meta. Nimmo served as a NATO press officer between 2011 and 2014, and the following year, he moved to the Institute for Statecraft, where they armed a UK government-funded propaganda operation aimed at spreading misleading information about enemies of the British state. The Statecraft Institute where he established a secret network of journalists across Europe who were used to fuel anti-Russian narratives in the media.
An example of Nimmo’s election meddling is the UK general election of 2019. When the Labour Party published information about Conservative plans to privatize the NHS, Nimmo sprang into action, immediately announcing, without evidence, that the documents in question “sound very much like a well-known Russian operation”. The aim here was to confuse voters and divert attention from an issue that was damaging for the Conservative Party.
Bolivians are disturbed by the partisan manner in which Meta has censored our voices, without any due process or right to appeal. All we want is for our cases to be reviewed fairly, to be given a chance to prove that we are real people with years of our personal lives saved on the social network that we can now no longer access. We want justice.