'Milkshakes Against the Republican Party' disappears after Congress pressures Facebook

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This article has been updated with a response from a Twitter account under the name Milkshakes Against the Republican Party. Its comments follow the original story.

A left-leaning Facebook page had been called out for posts that seemed to advocate violence.
A left-leaning Facebook page had been called out for posts that seemed to advocate violence. Credit: Facebook

A fiery left-wing Facebook page has disappeared from the social network one day after Republicans in Congress pressured the company about its content, but Facebook says it didn't shut it down.

Right-wing media sites for years had targeted the page, called Milkshakes Against the Republican Party, claiming it crossed the line.

It was mostly filled with biting memes and commentary supporting progressive causes and and opposing President Trump. But Facebook had also given the page "strikes" for posts that mentioned the shooting of Republican Rep. Steve Scalise at a congressional baseball game last year, posts that seemed to condone the violence and even encourage more of the same in a few instances.

One post, for example, said: "Dear crazed shooters, the GOP has frequent baseball practice. You really wanna be remembered, that's how you do it. Signed, Americans tired of our politicians bathing in the blood of the innocent for a few million dollars from the terrorist organization NRA."

The page was no longer available on Wednesday. Facebook did not remove the page, according to a Facebook spokeswoman, which suggests that it was the page's anonymous backer or backers.

Milkshakes Against the Republican Party was thrust into the spotlight on Tuesday when Monika Bickert, Facebook's head of global policy management, joined executives from Twitter and YouTube to testify about political bias in social media before the House Judiciary Committee.

During the hearing, Bickert was asked to read the provocative posts from the "Milkshakes" page aloud, and was asked to explain why it was not banned entirely. (The "Milkshakes" in the name refers to a milkshake character in the TV show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," which runs on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim.)

"If they posted sufficient content that it violated our threshold, the page would come down," Bickert said on Tuesday. "That threshold varies depending on the severity of different types of violations."

The hearings instigated partisan jostling over how platforms treat each side's favored media. Facebook and YouTube were criticized, for instance, for allowing content from Alex Jones' InfoWars, a notorious rightwing conspiracy site that has called school shooting victims "crisis actors."

Seeing bias on the left, Republicans brought up pages like Milkshakes Against the Republican Party and claimed Facebook was restricting traffic to conservative pages such as Gateway Pundit.

This week, a documentary from the U.K.'s Channel 4 seemed to uncover flaws in Facebook's content policing policies, and claimed they favored far-right fringe groups. The documentary argued that Facebook was permissive of extreme content because it was primarily concerned with making money and keeping lucrative users on the service, no matter the politics.

"It has been suggested that turning a blind eye to bad content is in our commercial interests. This is not true," Facebook said in a blog post attributed to Bickert on Tuesday. "Creating a safe environment where people from all over the world can share and connect is core to Facebook's long-term success."

On Wednesday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed the content policies of Facebook in an interview with Recode's Kara Swisher.

Zuckerberg, who is Jewish, indicated that even Holocaust denial was within the bounds of acceptable speech on Facebook, meaning it would not necessarily draw any censure or lead to a ban.

The social network is trying to manage the concerns over offensive and often misleading speech, like fake news, while still allowing the full variety of expression represented in the public discourse. Facebook will take action against the worst misinformation by limiting how many peopel can see it, but has a higher threshold when it comes to removing a person or page from the site entirely.

"It's hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent," Zuckerberg said in the Recode interview. "I just think, as abhorrent as some of those examples are, I think the reality is also that I get things wrong when I speak publicly. I'm sure you do. I'm sure a lot of leaders and public figures we respect do too, and I just don't think that it is the right thing to say we're going to take someone off the platform if they get things wrong, even multiple times."

UPDATE: On Thursday, a Twitter account using the name Milkshakes Against the Republican Party said that the Facebook removal was self-imposed. In a message on Twitter, the group said it left Facebook because the attention from the hearings, including questions from Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, sparked death threats.

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