Facebook has shuttered a popular group for Michiganders who oppose their governor’s extreme lockdown measures, fueling debate about free speech during the coronavirus crisis.
‘Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine’ had more than 380,000 members, with media reports describing it as one of the largest anti-lockdown groups in the nation. It’s not clear if Facebook has provided an explanation for the group’s removal.
Visiting the page gives the following message: “Sorry, this content isn’t available right now.”
Garrett Soldano of Mattawan, Michigan created Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine in April after becoming disenchanted with Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order – a policy which he initially supported.
The group made headlines around the world after organizing ‘Operation Gridlock’, a protest in which thousands of cars created bumper-to-bumper traffic in the capital, Lansing.
Protesters were encouraged to stay in their automobiles and adhere to social distancing guidelines. However, several hundred demonstrators ended up rallying outside the state house.
Many members of the group used the space to talk about the depression and financial hardships that they were experiencing as a result of the governor’s executive orders, first enacted in March 23, which have forced all ‘non-essential’ businesses and to remain closed.
Some pics from ‘Pennsylvania Against Excessive Quarantine’ Facebook group. pic.twitter.com/vqFeqVZ1fx
— Zachary Elwood (@apokerplayer) April 19, 2020
Whitmer unilaterally extended her emergency powers in May, after the legislature voted to let them expire. The governor has used these executive powers as the legal basis for the state’s lockdown.
“They will not silence us,” Soldano said in a video message after the group was deleted.
“This just proves to all of us out there that we were right. That there is a deep agenda going on. They’re trying to keep us quiet… Now we fight back. And we have the numbers.”
For now, the message is unavailable on Facebook. On Wednesday, Soldano began promoting a new page, Stand Up Michigan, which gained thousands of members before also being pulled from the site.
The removal of Soldan’s anti-lockdown group has not gone unnoticed on social media. Former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson described the decision to pull the page as a clear example of “censorship.”
Some challenged the notion, apparently arguing that the group’s beliefs were not worthy of being protected. Even Elon Musk, who re-opened his Tesla plant in California in defiance of local officials, weighed in.
Best group on FB by far
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 13, 2020
Last month, Facebook deleted anti-lockdown pages that were organizing demonstrations in California, Nebraska, and New Jersey, claiming that the groups were in violation of those states’ stay-at-home orders.
Meanwhile, the tech giant announced that it would be working with fact-checkers to “stop the spread of misinformation and harmful content about Covid-19.” An update regarding the policy, dated May 12, states that the platform put warning labels on around 50 million “pieces of content related to Covid-19.”
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