HAWKINS: The Not-So-Strange Truth About Facebook's Censorship And The New York Times Hit-Job On Me

The Facebook logo is seen on an Apple iPhone on October 1, 2018. Facebook has recently had over 50 million user accounts compromised.
Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In a weird sort of way, it’s flattering to have Facebook target a page I used to run for destruction on the same day that The New York Times does an inaccurate hit piece on me. It sure is a coincidence that both of those things happened the week after I ran a highly publicized GoFundMe for Brett Kavanaugh’s family that raised $611,000 (In case you’re wondering, we’re still waiting for word from the family on how they want to use the money).

There’s a lot to unpack here; so let’s start at the beginning.

Facebook purged a large number of pages, 559 according to The New York Times article and did a real hatchet job not just on me, but on all the pages that were purged. There was very little in the way of proof or evidence of wrongdoing offered in the article (beyond a factually incorrect ad from June of this year), but words like "real-time spreading of disinformation," "falsehoods meant to mislead and inflame," "purposefully designed manipulations," "domestic sites are emulating the Russian strategy of 2016," "domestic disinformation" and "online spam” get tossed around very freely in the article.

There are also some inaccuracies about me in the article. The most egregious one is this,

“...Right Wing News sprang into action on Facebook. The conservative site, run by the blogger John Hawkins, had created a series of Facebook pages and accounts over the last year under many names, according to Facebook.”

Not only have I not run the Right Wing News Facebook page this year (more on that later), I don’t have any “fake” accounts and every page I have ever set up on Facebook has been attached to that one account. Even after seeing this article and alerting Sheera Frenkel from The New York Times that it was inaccurate, she left it in. Remember that the next time The New York Times gets angry when Trump calls it “fake news.” As a side note, Right Wing News was also started in 2001 and despite what the article says, I received no emails or phone calls from the NYT before it went live. This is despite the fact that I have talked with The New York Times about this subject matter before and reporters from the Telegraph, Guardian, Politico and the Daily Beast (among other places) had no difficulty whatsoever reaching me yesterday after they read the article. Getting past the falsities about me in the article, how much truth is there to those SCARY accusations? It’s hard to say definitively since I am no longer involved in doing daily news on Facebook, but there is one particular incident I remember from when I was that makes me wonder.

I had a secondary page under my name that was pulled by Facebook for a month. I reached out to my representative (When you are big enough, you can get one of those) to find out why because I didn’t get an explanation when Facebook yanked it. After two weeks and lots of speculation about ad networks or articles that might somehow, someway be a problem even though they didn’t seem to go against Facebook’s terms of service, we got an answer. It was just a really, really bad one. My rep, who could literally ask Facebook engineers for information could not tell me why my page had been suspended. She also couldn’t get the suspension lifted or tell me how to prevent it from being suspended again. So, I know from personal experience that Facebook’s attitude is that we’re going to suspend you now and we’ll come up with reasons for it later….or we won’t even bother and there’s nothing you can do about it.

In any case, at the start of the year when I stopped doing daily news articles on Right Wing News, I wrote a column about it on Townhall. This is a very relevant paragraph from that article,

Before the (2016) election season got into full swing, Facebook had already made some mild downgrades to reach. Afterwards, when liberal mainstream media outlets were screaming about Russian ad buys and “fake news,” Facebook systematically, methodically reduced the reach of all its pages with each algorithm change. By then, most of us understood where it was going long-term. If Facebook killed every conservative page overnight, there would be a huge outcry. On the other hand, if Facebook slowly strangled us to death, we’d fade away and would people even notice?

Could I have kept Right Wing News going with a skeleton crew? Absolutely, but I could see where it was going. Facebook wants to get rid of all the conservative pages, but if it just wipes them out in one fell swoop, it might face some really uncomfortable questions about censorship in front of a Republican Congress that could regulate Facebook. So, it is going to slowly, but surely strangle all these conservative pages to death while it looks for any excuse to wipe them out and funnel people over to liberal websites. My assumption was that whatever happened to the Right Wing News Facebook page yesterday was going to eventually happen no matter what I did. Personally, when I’m faced with a game like that, I think the smartest thing to do is not to play.

Of course, not everyone has the same viewpoint on that issue. Brian Kolfage, who lost his legs and his right hand in a rocket attack in Iraq back in 2004 wanted to keep going and took charge of the Right Wing News Facebook page.

Although I haven’t kept up with what Brian does day to day, I do know that after he got dinged for an inaccurate article which he later corrected, he had been telling me that his team has been bending over backward to stay within Facebook’s rules and guidelines. In fact, at Brian’s urging just last week Facebook had agreed to do a webinar with his team that was designed to make sure the Right Wing News page was compliant with its rules. Facebook cancelled it. Yesterday, we found out why.

Let me also note that Brian denies all these charges that were made in The New York Times. In fact, he wrote this to me last night in an email:

It is true, I manage the Right Wing News facebook page and have been involved with the brand for many years. I took over managing the page when John Hawkins decided to step aside to pursue other endeavors. John and I have a great relationship and I was honored to have the torch passed down to me. We had a coveted verified blue check mark 3.5 Million fans, and I invested over $300,000 in ads at Facebook's own request, nearly begging us to spend, spend, spend just to reach our fans that they kept making it more difficult to reach with every passing year. Never once did Facebook come to us to say there was any issue with Right Wing News or our other pages...NEVER! But they sure loved taking our money.

We did run multiple facebook pages, as its allowed to have more than one page and we did own them and had them for years. We were not spamming, we were not using fake accounts, we were not doing anything wrong, except we supported President Trump and apparently that's not allowed. ...Everything you're reading in the news about us is false, it’s a campaign to label us as 'Russians' or 'Spammers' or 'Right Wings Nuts' pushing fake news. It's just not true.

Then to top all of this off, the Right Wing News Twitter account which I do run and use almost entirely to retweet interesting things was suspended. If you're wondering what kind of message Twitter gives you when you're conservative and it apparently decides to get rid of you based on an inaccurate article in The New York Times as opposed to anything you've tweeted, this is it.

As I told a reporter last night, “I have been Alex Jones’d” and although it’s hard to know what the future holds, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if my personal Facebook and Twitter accounts are pulled by the time this column goes live, not because I have done anything wrong, but because I’m a conservative who has been smeared by The New York Times. I have really appreciated all the support and the kind words,

However, I want to end by telling you this: If you are conservative, Twitter and Facebook are your enemies. Not because they yanked a Facebook page run by a wounded Iraq war veteran after treating him like crap for months (Reporters, ask him for details) or because they yanked a Twitter account I run even though I didn’t break any rules, but because we are at the point of the spear. They’re silencing us because they can get away with it. The moment they feel comfortable getting rid of more conservatives, they will do it. Although conservatives screw up just like everyone else, this isn’t about breaking rules; it’s about ideology. We have allowed these liberal corporations to build monopolies on large parts of the public square and they’re using those monopolies to try to silence people who disagree with them. I’ve been hammering this issue home to conservatives for a long time and even wrote a column in National Review encouraging Republicans to break up monopolies like Facebook and Google. Nothing that happened yesterday has convinced me that is a bad idea. At the end of the day, this is all about companies like Facebook and Twitter that have increasing control over who gets heard working to make sure that you only see what they want you to see.

A version of this article was previously published by Western Journal.

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