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Facebook’s political censorship

Eight whistleblowers prosecuted under the Obama administration: Where are they now?

One month before the U.S midterm elections, Facebook deletes over 800 pages and accounts claiming they consistently displayed “spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

The 559 politically-oriented pages and 251 accounts were all American. Among the blocked pages are Nation in Distress, Right Wing News, Reasonable People Unite, and The Resistance.

Facebook explains this action in their official statement:

People need to be able to trust the connections they make on Facebook. It’s why we have a policy banning coordinated inauthentic behavior — networks of accounts or Pages working to mislead others about who they are, and what they are doing. This year, we’ve enforced this policy against many Pages, Groups and accounts created to stir up political debate, including in the US, the Middle East, Russia and the UK. But the bulk of the inauthentic activity we see on Facebook is spam that’s typically motivated by money, not politics. And the people behind it are adapting their behavior as our enforcement improves.

Although the First Amendment does not apply to private entities such as social media platforms, many of the owners of these pages claim unjust censorship. They contest Facebook’s silencing, claiming they were simply expressing political discourse and not infringing Facebook’s guidelines, according to the Guardian.

The Guidelines on censored hate speech are defined by Facebook as “a direct attack on people based on — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability.” They also define attack “as violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation.

The Pew Research Center demonstrates that, in the United States most social platform users are well aware of this online censorship linked to political agendas.

72 percent of the public thinks it is likely that social media platforms, such as Facebook, actively censor political views that those companies find objectionable.

« The study demonstrates slightly differing responses on censorship among political parties, with a majority of Republicans and Republican leaners (85%) believing it is likely that social media companies engage in this behavior, with 54 percent indicating they find it very likely. A smaller share of Democrats – though still a majority, at 62 percent – also think it likely that social media companies engage in this behavior.

Nevertheless, users are surprisingly accepting of  this censorship– even those residing in countries where freedom of speech is paramount. However,  the data also suggests that in places such as Europe many users support Facebook monitoring their speech if it for the right cause, such as protecting minorities or monitoring fake content.

Despite a growing mistrust of big institutions including technology companies and media outlets, most Facebook users say it is still benefiting them personally to be on the platform. 74 percent of Americans say tech companies have had a positive impact on their lives, and 65 percent feel they’ve had a positive impact on the nation as a whole.

The constant influx of information, from its’ 2.13 billion users, makes it certainly hard for Facebook to monitor all its content. However, the dilemma extends beyond this technological constraint. In giving a powerful company the power to decide what should be censored can easily silence voices that deserve to be heard.

In April 2018 users gained the ability to file an appeal if they believe their content has been unfairly removed. That appeal is then sent to a new human moderator, who will issue a decision within 24 hours. However, this did not help the 800+ pages claiming injustice this past November.

Eight whistleblowers prosecuted under the Obama administration: Where are they now?

Eight whistleblowers prosecuted under the Obama administration: Where are they now?

Barack Obama is often criticized for waging a war against whistleblowers, but this may not be the entire truth. During the two terms Obama held office, eight whistleblowers were prosecuted, a number greater than those punished by the law under all U.S. presidential administrations combined. It is important to acknowledge that almost all of those whistleblowers were not dissenting against Obama, but rather challenged misconduct during the Bush administration. The Justice Department under Obama either did not stop pending criminal prosecutions, or initiated them. The eight whistleblowers were all accused of leaking or mishandling classified information under the Espionage Act.

The reason for the legal proceedings: a violation of the Espionage Act of 1917. Originally enacted to punish those seeking to interfere with war recruitment and funding, this act persists today in a much different context.

The Sedition Act of 1918, created an amendment and broadened the scope to certain forms of speech, including publications of “any disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive language about the form of government in the United States, or the Constitution, or the military or naval forces.”

The Espionage Act was challenged in the courts throughout the decades for limiting freedom of speech, leading to its many revisions. Although rarely resurrected today, presidents such as Obama have utilized it to suppress dissidents they considered a threat to national security.

Tom Devine, the Legal Director at the Government Accountability Project (GAP), the most prominent whistleblower support organization, explains the complexity of the issue. He classifies Obama’s relationship with whistleblowers as “schizophrenic” and says that in his field they often referred to his behavior as a battle of“Obama vs Obama,” because of his contradictory stances regarding informers.

Devine explains that Obama was “American whistleblowers’ best friend, all while seeking to tighten up national security through the Espionage Act.” The Legal Director adds that the former president has an “unusually broad deference to national security community.”

Although Obama took a surprisingly strong stance on national security, prosecuting individuals he deemed threatening to the U.S. government, he also aided in the protection of whistleblowers. He established a restriction of criminal charges for those who leaked classified information as opposed to those who simply released information opposing the government.

With his Presidential Policy Directive (PPD 19) Obama specifically protected whistleblower among intelligence agencies “to ensure that IC employees can effectively report instances of waste, fraud, and abuse.”

Chelsea Manning

The former Army Intelligence Analyst was charged with the largest leak in U.S history, through the famous whistleblower website WikiLeaks, publishing 700,000 diplomatic cables and military reports on both the Afghan and Iraq wars.

In 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in jail but in 2017, President Obama significantly reduced Manning’s sentence to a total of 7 years. Manning was released on May 17, 2017 and remains very politically active.

She is now also a writer on war, gender, and freedom of information as a contributing opinion for The Guardian.

Edward Snowden

Snowden was charged with theft of government property and two counts of violating the Espionage Act. The computer professional and former CIA employee leaked documents revealing the American government was spying on its’ citizens.

Each of the three charges carries a maximum possible prison term of ten years. Snowden currently resides in Russia, in asylum, as he is still wanted by the U.S. government. He lives in a closely guarded location in Moscow.

Despite these limitations to his own free he is often credited for the “Snowden Effect” which started the much-needed conversation around individual privacy and national security.

Thomas Drake

The former senior executive at the National Security Agency violated the Espionage Act for the “willful retention” and “unauthorized disclosure” of classified documents.

Due to a plea agreement all charges were dropped, liberating him from any prison time. Drake was sentenced to one year of probation and 240 hours of community service.

Since his case, he has become an activist against the “surveillance state” arguing that the problems of the NSA are “so chronic and systemic that the only solution would be to completely dismantle and subsequently rebuild the entire organization.”

His location is unknown but he says he is now “devoted to defending life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This year Drake published a book titled Enemy of the State: How the U.S. Government Tried to Turn a Truth-teller Into a Traitor.”

Stephen Jin-Woo Kim

While working at the State Department as an adviser on nuclear proliferation, Jin-Woo Kim allegedly revealed that North Korea would conduct a nuclear bomb test to Fox News reporter James Rosen.

Entering a guilty plea to a single felony count of disclosing classified national defense information to an unauthorized person, he was sentenced to a 13-month prison term.

There have not been any updates on his life post-sentence.

James Hitselberger

A Navy contract linguist, working as an arabic translator in Bahrain, was prosecuted for “unauthorized retention of national defense information.” He allegedly released classified documents off the military base, discussing discrepancies in U.S. intelligence in Bahrain.

As there were no indications of espionage, Hitselberger was proposed a plea deal let off with a $250 fine. There are no available updates on his whereabouts since then.

John Kiriakou

The former CIA official was accused by the U.S. government for leaking classified information to journalists. More specifically he named two former colleagues who used waterboarding to torture detainees.

Originally facing up to 30 years in prison, when Kiriakou pleaded guilty and was only met with two and a half years of prison. As a part of the plea deal, the charges against him under the Espionage Act were annulled.

Now living in Virginia, Kiriakou is a writer and columnist exposing human rights abuses.

Shamai Leibowitz

Working for the FBI as a Hebrew translator, Leibowitz leaked over 200 pages of documents of transcribed wiretaps from conversations between the Israeli embassy in Washington and the blogger Richard Silverstein.

Pleading guilty, in 2010 he was sentenced to 20 months in prison. He now writes about science, music, Judaism and current events through his own blog. He also tutors pupils in mathematics.

Jeffrey Sterling

Former CIA officer Sterling charged with leaking classified information about U.S. efforts to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program to New York Times reporter James Risen.

Although Sterling insists that his communications with Risen did not involve secret information he  convicted of espionage charges in 2015 with three and a half years of prison time.

He now works as a fraud investigator.

Devine explains that if we are comparing Obama with previous presidents, one must know that “more whistleblowers are being prosecuted, because the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act has made it much harder to fire employees, while neither it nor other US laws protect against retaliatory civil and criminal investigations and litigation.

Devine goes on to say that “harassment through a criminal case, especially by opening a criminal investigation, also is easier and less risky because agencies don’t have to deal with all the work of a lawsuit when they open a criminal investigation and give the wber the choice of resigning or risking indictment.

Also because “Opening a retaliatory criminal investigation is risk-free. Agencies can’t lose. The worst that will happen is they close the case, and then can open a new one soon after. I have numerous clients facing serial with-hunts.

Finally “If there is a chilling effect from the specter of unemployment, there is a freezing effect from the prospect of imprisonment.

When asked to predict the whistleblowers and their fate under the Trump administration Devine stated he is “not optimistic on the president’s intolerance for criticism” and believes that whistleblowers who plan on exposing his abuses of power will be met with harsh consequences.