The action was taken Monday for planned protests against stay-at-home measures in California, New Jersey and Nebraska. Facebook removed the pages after the company was informed by state officials that the gatherings would violate state orders limiting crowds and requiring social distancing to stem the surge in COVID-19 cases.
Pages for protests in other states were allowed to remain up for the time being.
The first son accused Facebook of “colluding with state governments to quash people’s free speech.” He called it a “chilling and disturbing government-directed shutdown of peoples 1st Amendment rights. Very dangerous!”
The relevant state guidelines concern health issues, not speech, much as laws restrict the number of people who can safely pack into a performance venue because of safety issues.
Facebook, which is a publicly traded corporation not legally required to provide a platform for everyone, is blocking people from using its social network to encourage violating state safety guidelines. Where no such regulations exist, organizers are still allowed to promote protests.
“Unless government prohibits the event during this time, we allow it to be organized on Facebook,” a company representative told Politico. “For this same reason, events that defy government’s guidance on social distancing aren’t allowed on Facebook.”
State officials and Democrats see the action as safeguarding social distancing health measures, which are also supported by the Trump administration.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) praised Facebook’s action. “Powerful special interests are using astroturfing & dangerous tactics to undermine the fight against COVID-19,” he warned on Twitter.
Despite protests in several cities against COVID-19 safety measures, polls reveal broad public support for social distancing efforts. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that 58% of voters were more worried that lifting restrictions would lead to more COVID-19 deaths than they were about continued stay-at-home orders harming the economy. A HuffPost/YouGov poll found that 86% of Americans said they were trying to stay home as much as possible, and about 65% said they’d continue to stay home even if all restrictions were lifted in their area.
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