Russiagate Frenzy Targets Leftist Sites (Pt 2/2)

Russiagate has deepened the partnership between Washington and Silicon Valley, and leftist websites are among the first casualties. After falsely accusing an anti-white supremacist rally event page of being a fake, Facebook shut down the page of VenezuelaAnalysis.com for several hours without explanation. We speak to VA founder and TRNN host Greg Wilpert, as well as the Grayzone Project’s Max Blumenthal

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Story Transcript

AARON MATE: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate.

We’re talking about Silicon Valley’s increasing policing of content across its platforms. And one of the latest casualties has been the website Venezuelanalysis. Its Facebook page was taken down for several hours before being restored, without explanation. Here to discuss are two guests. We’re still joined by journalist and author Max Blumenthal. Now we’re also joined by my Real News colleague Greg Wilpert. He is a senior producer and host at The Real News, and also the founder of Venezuelanalysis.com. Greg, tell us what you know.

GREG WILPERT: Yes, early this morning, I think around 9:00 or 8:00AM, we found out that the Facebook page for Venezuelanalysis.com had been removed, or basically blocked, by Facebook. And no explanation was provided other than it saying that somehow our page had violated the Facebook terms, and there was a link to those terms. We of course immediately reviewed those terms, and who knows how many people actually do that. They’re not that long. I recommend everybody do review them, in case they might face being taken down. But in a review of all the terms, there was absolutely no reason, no discernible reason, why our page violated those terms. And of course, the only thing, the only recourse we had was an anonymous appeal button. That is, you could click that button and then say why you’re appealing, and hope for a response, which we never got. And only this evening, probably at around 5:00PM Eastern time, was the page reinstated, again with no explanation whatsoever anywhere, as far as we could tell.

So this was of course one of the most frustrating things, is that you just don’t know. I mean, you feel like this is just a completely arbitrary decision. And I should note, of course, that one of the things, one of the speculations, of course, that we have, is that maybe they think that Venezuelanalysis is somehow a government-funded website, or somehow misrepresenting what it’s about. But we don’t. I mean, Venezuelanalysis.com is a completely reader-funded website reporting from a progressive point of view and from a point of view of the social movements in Venezuela about what’s going on in Venezuela. So there’s really no legitimate reason, as far as we can tell, for having blocked the site.

AARON MATE: How many followers does Venezuelanalysis have on Facebook? And have you ever gotten any complaints about its content before?

GREG WILPERT: We, of course we get complaints all the time. But nothing, nothing official. At least not from Facebook. And we have about 8400 followers. Which is not an enormous number, but it’s a respectable number, considering that it’s a, you know, a relatively minor site. We don’t do any advertising, and it’s been around for a good 15 years, now.

AARON MATE: Max Blumenthal, I can’t help but note that this comes just days after Nicolas Maduro faced an assassination attempt. So a time when sites like Venezuelanalysis are going to be very busy, and people are going to be turning to it. I’m wondering, your thoughts upon hearing that its Facebook page was taken down for many hours?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, I’ve actually been noticing some interesting developments on Facebook with my own page, which is dedicated to promoting articles that appear on my GrayzoneProject.com. Which is that, you know, frequently I’ll post an article; Facebook will tell me it’s high-performing, and they’ll say, would you like to boost the post for $20? And you know, on a number of occasions I’ve tried, and I followed every instruction that Facebook provided me. Ultimately I had to submit a form and receive mail. I have the piece of mail which gave me a code so that I could confirm that I wasn’t a Russian bot, or I don’t know what, to confirm that I was a real person. And I entered the code. I followed every verification instruction. And I’m still blocked from taking out ads or boosting any post on political grounds. Electronic Intifada has had the same problem, and they’ve appealed again and again, and Facebook simply blocks them. Meanwhile, there are sponsored posts for all sorts of websites which are on the other side of the political spectrum that I see everyday. And I just don’t know what the criteria is here.

Indeed, Venezuelanalysis was blocked right after Nicolas Maduro and his government presented evidence of the assassination attempt on Maduro that took place four days ago by drones containing C4. They linked the attempt to former Venezuelan military and police personnel in Colombia. We saw- and we’ve seen revelations that there may have been some planning that took place in Miami. So Venezuelanalysis has produced some of the most critical reporting and analysis on what actually has taken place behind the scenes. Meanwhile, we’ve seen places like Think Progress, which is the sort of outsourced brain of the Democratic Party, a blog for the Center for American Progress think tank in Washington, describe the assassination attempt on Maduro without any evidence as a false flag, as a possible inside job. They weren’t punished in any way.

I was also recently, I’ve also been recently reporting on Nicaragua, which has faced a kind of a soft coup, Color Revolution-style attempt against the government of Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista movement as a whole. And there was a really important new initiative sort of similar to Venezuelanalysis, but it also contained kind of like a podcast element with in-studio analysis by young Nicaraguans who are supporters of the Sandinistas, breaking down the coup, talking about U.S. meddling. It’s called Redvolucion. And their videos were just getting taken down again and again and again, without any explanation.

It really does seem to me that there is a disproportionate attempt at suppressing left-wing media on Facebook. I’m not really in contact with anyone on the far right, or the right, to really measure it against what happens to them. But it really does seem like there is increasing pressure on these really legitimate journalistic and political analysis initiatives to suppress their message. And it’s incredibly disturbing what happened today with Venezuelanalysis.

AARON MATE: You know, just to read the headline of that Think Progress piece that Max mentioned, it’s called “Did a Drone Attack Really Try to Assassinate the Venezuelan President? That’s what Caracas is claiming, even though it may have just been a gas leak explosion.” And the irony is that it’s written by a prolific blogger who constantly talks about the scourge of Russian misinformation. Greg Wilpert- Max, quick comment, and then we’ll wrap with Greg.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: I mean I would just go to Greg, but the irony is clear. You know, as long as false flag speculation serves the Washington consensus, then, you know, it fits within the editorial guidelines of mainstream media.

AARON MATE: Greg Wilpert, final word to you. Are you concerned that this might be the beginning of more of a crackdown on content that Venezuelanalysis is putting out?

GREG WILPERT: Well, I think there’s certainly reason to be concerned. I mean, like I mentioned before, the very fact that it’s been so arbitrary, with no explanations provided, is very concerning. And they didn’t actually state- addressing what you and Max were mentioning- I mean, actually, one of our best-performing articles was just published yesterday, which was specifically a critique of the Guardian’s kind of suggestion that there was a false flag operation going on in Venezuela. There was a detailed takedown of that article. And shortly after it took off, the site was shut down.

Now, I don’t know if there was a connection, but it’s certainly very suspicious. And one of the problems is that there’s no supervision or oversight over a medium that basically has become sort of the de-facto news platform for almost everyone in the world now, for better or worse. And it is completely unsupervised and unregulated.

The good thing, I would say, just very quickly, is that we got lots of positive reactions. And I think the reason why so many people react very quickly is that they know they could be next, because they know that these decisions are completely arbitrary. They know that, that these decisions could affect anyone at any time, and therefore we have to react. And so that was very positive to see. We even got article requests, or interview requests from Buzzfeed, from Sputnik, from a whole bunch of different locations. So that’s kind of the silver lining here.

AARON MATE: We’ll leave it there. Greg Wilpert of The Real News and Venezuelanalysis, and Max Blumenthal the Grayzone Project, thank you.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Thanks.

GREG WILPERT: Thank you.

AARON MATE: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.