This is yet another mess to leave on Facebook’s plate, but it comes with a couple of twists. It turns out that the Black Lives Matter page on Facebook which attracts the most traffic and donations was shown to be a fake. The name of the page was simply “Black Lives Matter” which most people assume relates to an American social justice movement, but it was set up in Australia and at least some of the money they “raised” went down under, not into the streets of America’s urban centers. (CNN)
The page, titled simply “Black Lives Matter,” had almost 700,000 followers on Facebook, more than twice as many as the official Black Lives Matter page. It was tied to online fundraisers that brought in at least $100,000 that supposedly went to Black Lives Matter causes in the U.S. At least some of the money, however, was transferred to Australian bank accounts, CNN has learned.
Fundraising campaigns associated with the Facebook page were suspended by PayPal and Patreon after CNN contacted each of the companies for comment. Donorbox and Classy had already removed the campaigns.
The discovery raises new questions about the integrity of Facebook’s platform and the content hosted there. In the run-up to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress this week, Facebook has announced plans to make the people running large pages verify their identity and location. But it’s not clear that the change would affect this page: Facebook has not said what information about page owners it will disclose to the public — and, presented with CNN’s findings, Facebook initially said the page didn’t violate its “Community Standards.”
Just to get one important aspect of this story out of the way up front, I wanted to point out that this is not a knock against Black Lives Matter. Nobody associated with the movement in the United States was apparently involved in setting up the page and perpetrating this scam. Nor are supporters of the movement to blame for being taken in. Many of us have fallen victim to bogus claims from online sources if we’re not careful enough.
The real perpetrators who deserve outrage and investigation are the people in Australia who set up the account and collected the money. But is Facebook also somehow to blame? Here’s one question we should be directing toward Mark Zuckerberg at this point. Facebook spends all manner of time, energy and resources examining conservative websites, advertisers and promotions to determine their veracity. This was a page set up to promote and fund a primarily American movement and it was set up by an account in Australia. Did that not raise any red flags at Facebook HQ? Or don’t you bother looking into liberal, social justice warrior accounts?
Of course, this leads us back to the bone I’ve had to pick with the entire Facebook debate for the past couple of years. If we’re to hold Mark Zuckerberg responsible for this scam going on successfully for so long, we’re assuming that Facebook is responsible for that content rather than (or at least as much as) the content creators themselves. For all its global reach and intrusive habits, in the end, Facebook is still the internet equivalent of a corkboard put up in the public square. People come along and post things on it. If something awful shows up which offends people, is that the fault of the manufacturer or the corkboard or the person who pinned the offending note to it?
Yes, the Australian scammers did something disgusting and potentially illegal (depending on how they handled the donations they took in). Now their fundraising avenues have been cut off. The bigger conversation which should follow is what, if any, responsibility Facebook has in the matter.