A few days ago I had an interview with John Vibes, who was one of the people behind the series of pages that were part of the purge on facebook a little over a week ago. Below are the key questions from the call, and more insight into what exactly went down.
Q: As we all heard by now Facebook took down 559 pages and 251 accounts all across the political spectrum. How many of those were you involved in?
A: It depends. I was involved in dozens of them, but really I was only intimately involved in three or four of them, and maybe we can get into how that works now.
Q: By all means, tell me which ones were the main ones you worked with, and how the cross admin system worked?
A: Ok, so I worked mainly with Police the police, the Free Thought Project, and the Free Your Mind Conference. The free your mind conference is my own individual page for a conference that I host with different activists but that was separate from the rest of the network. I think that got taken down too though because I was an admin. But I suppose it was part of the promotional network that we had, it was just kinda my part. We do have a promotional network in the sense that there are activists from all over the country and maybe even outside of the country that we have met each other through, just, you know, online posting the same stuff and we’ve build kind of a community instead of just sticking to our own stuff trying to just build our own “brand” or whatever. We actually tried to help each other and lift each other’s organizations up by sharing admin privileges on each other’s pages which really helped all of us to be really successful. We were across political lines which was the interesting thing. A couple of those pages were a little more left, a couple were more conservative. We consider ourselves to be neither, but it was just a case of networking and it was kind of sad that it was, well you know. It seems like if you boil their (Facebook) press release down to, you know, aside from all of the hyperbolic stuff that’s out there it really was just “these people are networking and sharing information online.” That’s really all we were guilty of; that we were accused of.
Q: So I guess one of the things I’ll bring up here is, with the internet being the internet, people have had to speculate and bring up their own theories. A lot of people have been saying that part of the reason a bunch of these pages went down had to do with the cross-network admin system you had for sharing content and that some of the pages might have been guilty of what they were accused of which was ToS violations and/or spam. So because of that cross admin network, it brought everything down. Is there any validity to those claims?
A: I don’t think there’s even validity to that thought process because I don’t think that would even be against any terms of service or the like. So, say for example I wanted to control 100 different pages related to the drug war, marijuana, libertarianism, anything. A whole bunch of activist pages but only one person behind them and I put all of my time into creating all of those pages but say I shared my one website on there. I don’t even really see how that would be a violation of the ToS. Now of course, like everyone else, I’ve never read em so I don’t know, maybe it is a violation of the ToS, but I don’t see anything wrong with one person creating multiple accounts. Now that definitely isn’t what happened here and there really is proof that that isn’t the case here because all of the people that were connected with these pages are public activists that have all of this stuff on record that that’s their specific page. So, like, yeah, the Free Your Mind Conference is my page, and that’s the only one that’s mine. That’s the only one that I actually own. Jason has the Free Thought Project and Police the Police, Nick has Anti-Media, Matt and Jared have Punk Rock Libertarians, and their names are attached to those organizations, in public. So it’s not like there are mysterious figures that are sitting behind this. It’s public activists so I don’t even see where these people are getting off saying that it’s some kind of cabal or conspiracy when all of these people are out in the open. All of this is out in the open really. The whole networking thing has been out in the open since day one because it’s been pretty obvious that “Oh, I see Anti-Media’s articles every day on the Free Through Project and I see the Free Thought Project’s articles every day on Anti-Media and vice-versa.” We definitely picked no bones about being on each other’s radio shows or sharing each other’s articles and I really think that that’s what activism and content generation, in general, is all about. It’s just really, really strange.
Q: Another thing people have suggested is that the fears over the “Russian Bots” that supposedly plagued the US election two years ago combined with a bit of pressure from the government regarding pages that were pushing political messaging for profit was something that people have suggested is a force behind this. Would you say that that’s something that Facebook would have been acting on or do you think it was something else they were looking for?
A: Well, as far as the “pushing political ideas for profit” thing is concerned isn’t that what Fox, MSNBC, Huffing Post, anybody does that. Anyone that runs ads on a website, and that’s pretty much everybody (and if they’re not they’re running miner bots probably) you know anyone that puts out content makes money for the most part. So that I think is kinda crazy, but its a little more complicated as to why we got taken down. There was kind of a long road to this and my co-author that I wrote a couple of books with put a great article out on it yesterday that kind of chronicled the timeline of it way back to three years ago when a professor put out a list of alternative media. It had a mixture of alternative media organizations on there and actual fake news. Over the years that that list got kicked around and it got picked up by an organization, some anonymous organization, that obviously has an agenda and they won’t reveal their names to anybody except for the Mainstream media. They said they’ll reveal themselves to the mainstream media, but not to us and then the Atlantic Council got involved with Facebook. The Atlantic Council got involved with Facebook a while ago. It became official a month after Zuckerberg got chewed out by Congress. This military-industrist think tank gets partnered with Facebook to decide which content is going to be allowed on the website. Now I think the hearing was in April and I think their partnership with the Atlantic Council started in May. So the Atlantic Council is funded by everybody that hates us. Big Pharma, The banks, The Rockefeller Foundation, the whole military-industrial complex from Raytheon, Lockheed-Martin, Bowing, the US army, the Israeli Defense organization, stuff like that so it’s pretty much everybody that we criticize. So I think that it’s no mistake that as soon as they partner up are traffic gets throttled massively and Facebook made a public post saying that they were specifically targeting organizations that they deemed to be fake news and that they had throttled their traffic by 80% and that they were going to work on taking them down. That post was made a month or two ago and now here we are.
Q: Some have been viewing this as a massive censorship issue, others are saying that Facebook is a private entity, the platform isn’t public domain since its privately owned. So in a situation like this would you consider this a freedom of speech issue or is this just a company choosing what they do and don’t want on their platform, or is there something deeper there?
A: I think that that argument is a little short sighted in a sense that free speech, the first amendment, and the whole thing with them being a private organization only really has to do with lawyers and cops and stuff like that. That doesn’t have to do with how I should feel or what I should try to do. What I mean by that is that I’m not calling for Facebook to be regulated, I’m not taking lawyers to facebook on first amendment grounds. But, what I’m trying to do is put market pressure on Facebook and trying to create some commotion about this so we get our platforms reinstated. Hopefully fully, but the problem is people trying to shut us down with that argument. They’re trying to shut down our criticism with the private company argument. And I don’t think that’s a valid argument to shut down criticism. It’s a valid argument to keep cops and lawyers out of the business. That’s fine with me, but it’s no excuse to shut down criticism.
Q: Have you experienced anything similar on other platforms outside of Facebook?
A: Oh its pretty much been across the board. We got hit by Twitter four hours after we got banned by Facebook. Still haven’t heard anything back from either of them since we tried to appeal and it’s been close to a week now. Then we decided we would try to start doing a podcast to bypass this censorship and hopefully, Itunes will accept us, maybe they won’t, but when we tried to upload our podcast on to YouTube we saw that we couldn’t because our YouTube channel was flagged. On the same day that Twitter and Facebook hit us, we got a strike on our YouTube account for a video that was posted years ago. So people are going to call me a conspiracy theorist for saying this but I definitely think it (the timing) was weird. Regardless, we can’t post on Twitter, we can’t post on Youtube, and we can’t post on Facebook, and it all kind of happened in the same day. So that is kind of weird.
Q: You think, speaking of getting hit on all the “primary” social media platforms, that you would draw a comparison with what happened here with all of these pages with what happened with Alex Jones?
A: 100%. I think that Alex Jones was a test run, and I think that the communication line that was set up between these companies to shut down Alex Jones was probably used to shut down us. Which worries me because we are trying to get on iTunes and iTunes was a part of that.
Q: Speaking of social media platforms, what’s your take on the alternatives? I know there’s a lot of people that talk about MeWe, Steemit, Minds, Mastodon, gab.ai, a whole bunch of these alternative sites. Do you think there are any real gains from putting content on those smaller platforms right now, or is it still a case of Facebook and Twitter running the game?
A: Well I do love Steemit. I love the community there as they are mostly anti-establishment people, and they do pay you for your work. I’ve been able to supplement my income with Steemit and I do recommend content creators of any kind, whether it’s artists or musicians or YouTubers or anything, that they should find a way on the Steemit blockchain and monetize their content. You know, it’s not much but it all helps and it’s more than YouTube is paying for sure. The problem is that you’re preaching to the choir over there. A lot of people that try to protest out in the streets they get forced into what the government likes to call “free speech zones” and it’s like these back alleys that you kind of fenced off and you can’t really interrupt anybody’s day and you can’t really be seen or heard. If we were to just go to an alternative platform and dedicate 100% of our time to that and not towards where all of the people are we would be relegated to an electronic free speech zone. We would be ineffectual. Even though I think the alternatives are great and I’m on every single one of them and I hope that one of them replaces Facebook, as an activist I still need to be reaching people with the message where they are. We’ve had a lot of tries and attempts at replacing facebook, but right now I think is probably the best opportunity than ever. Because, with the blockchain technologies and the like, these companies are finding ways to compensate contributors for their time and energy that they spend on these social networks because if you think about it all of the billions of people that are on Facebook and Twitter have, you know, they’ve made these companies billions with just the content that they generate throughout their day. These blockchain companies are allowing that process to come from the bottom up where all of these millions of users are actually able to earn something, and I think that that’s enough to entice people to jump ship. I don’t think any of these other things that have happened over the years have really offered that much, except Tsu but I think facebook ended up shutting them down. You can see, sorry to ramble on, you can see in the past week that Facebook as throttled all sorts of traffic to Minds. They’ve made it so you have to enter a captcha just to share anything from Minds. That is definitely a problem too. You know they’re not going to very easily let people jump ship. We’ll definitely see how that goes.
Q: You mentioned, carrying on from the reach aspect here, the network of pages you were involved in almost every one of them were either just north or just south of a million followers, Free Thought Project was just over 3 million. All of them had massive followings and were massive projects. What would you say really contributed to their size?
A: It was definitely the network. I think that that could be said in any walk of life, in any business, you need to get out there and work with the people that are doing what you do and a lot of it is unfortunate and there’s a lot of activists and they stay in their lane, and not in a good way, and they just build up what they’re doing. I think the more that activists work together and be a part of each other’s work, amazing things can happen. And I think that’s what happened with us, and I think it really was a magical thing because we were all working together so well. We would get into arguments and disagreements on facebook, but then we would still allow each other to have access to each others pages because we all believed in the same general ideas. I mean, most of us came to the table around anti-war and anti-drug war and the end of the two-party system at the very least. Those have been the kinds of things that brought this network together.
Q: So a little bit earlier you mentioned starting up a new podcast and trying to get that one out there. In the same vein, what else is next for you guys?
A: Well we have been hitting the media circuit hard. I know that we’re trying to get some attention on this because we really don’t know what other way to go. We have set up on alternatives and we’re trying the podcast, but we are definitely still fighting to get our pages reinstated as much as we hate this platform. As you said, we had access to millions of people here. To have to start from scratch it’ll take us ten years to build up all over again, and by then who knows what the government will be getting away with. I really do think we are watchdogs for many of the things that go on with foreign policy, and here domestically with police, and I really think that had a lot to do with it.
Definitely an interesting insight into what may very well just be the start of more to come.
You can read more from Killian Hobbs on Think Liberty here.