- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Social media blackouts raising conservatives’ ire are not confined to the national level, as Facebook has for the second time erased without warning a group that opposed Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stringent lockdowns.

The group “Impeach Whitmer” had never been flagged or warned for any post by its roughly 7,000 members before Facebook suddenly scrubbed it on Oct. 8, hours before authorities made the first arrests in an alleged plot to kidnap Ms. Whitmer.

The group’s founder, Brandon Hall, said he was announcing Facebook’s action now because he had received no reply from the social media giant explaining how he allegedly violated company policies.

Facebook also did not respond to requests for comment by The Washington Times.

“I woke up one morning and the page was just gone,” he said. “This was a legitimate operation, not some crackpot thing, but Facebook has become a completely weaponized arm of the DNC, Joe Biden and these nuts.”

Mr. Hall, 31, is a conservative political consultant in Petosky, Michigan, and is less well known in the state than anti-lockdown champion Garrett Soldano, but the two are victims of similar blackouts.

Earlier this year, Mr. Soldano’s group, Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantines, with 386,000 members, was also vaporized from Facebook with no prior warning. Before that, the group was subjected to censorship by the social media behemoth, he said.

“We went to 200,000 members in two days, and the next day we were up to 300,000 members,” said Mr. Soldano, 42, a chiropractor. “And then all of a sudden we were getting 4,000 or 5,000 members a day. You don’t just go from 100,000 to 4,000 in a day.”

The one time Facebook accused him of violating a company policy, he said, was when he posted a video of a news event at the barbershop of Karl Manke in Owosso. Mr. Manke eventually won his court battle to remain open for business.

“They said I was ‘advocating the spread of disease,’ which was completely absurd,” Mr. Soldano said, noting he was positioned in front of multiple local news cameras.

The Michigan blackouts occurred against a backdrop of conservative fury over Facebook’s and Twitter’s moves to stifle recent New York Post stories that could damage Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden. The stories allege corruption involving his son, Hunter Biden, and lucrative foreign business ventures where the elder Mr. Biden held sway as vice president in the Obama administration.

Capitol Hill Republicans have demanded Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey testify about alleged political bias and censorship on their platforms.

Mr. Dorsey has said Twitter acted in error in blocking links to The New York Post and agreed the company did not offer clear reasons for its actions. Twitter has since allowed links to the articles.

“I wanted to believe in Mark Zuckerberg — I did believe in him,” Mr. Hall said. “But in the last four years especially I can’t, Their fact checks are a joke. The crazy leftists want to silence everything they don’t like so I know he’s in a tough spot.”

He finds it especially galling that Ms. Whitmer has launched fundraising drives off the impeachment effort and depicted him personally as some kind of extremist.

“Facebook has no problem taking her money I guess.”

Mr. Soldano, 42, of Kalamazoo, told The Washington Times he launched his group after Ms. Whitmer “brought down her tyrannical hammer” on April 9. But he insists he did not envision the group merely targeting the governor and instead sought a more general appeal to liberty.

“We had 20 million engagements gone like it never existed,” Mr. Soldano said. “We tried to keep it positive; we need to bring people back to the center.”

Ms. Whitmer remains a political lightning rod, clashing with the Legislature’s Republican majority over her lockdown orders in response to COVID-19, the virus blamed for 7,364 deaths in Michigan to date.

Republican state Sen. Tom Barrett was one of the organizers of a petition that got more than 530,000 signatures calling for a repeal of the 1945 emergency powers law under which Ms. Whitmer repeatedly extended her orders without legislative approval.

“You can’t really prove anything but the evidence is mounting that these social media companies are engaged in censorship and this is no different,” Mr. Barrett said.

The notion Mr. Soldano or Mr. Hall represents some fringe position is undermined by the responses the petition received and the membership of groups run throughout the state.

The situation in Michigan had deteriorated before the alleged kidnapping scheme, which led to 14 arrests. On Oct. 2, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Ms. Whitmer exceeded her authority by unilaterally extending the coronavirus shutdown. In a separate 4-3 vote, the judges also struck down the 1945 law on which she based them.

Ms. Whitmer said she would appeal, but the court immediately tossed that concept on a 6-1 vote. Since then, she has had her appointed health director issue regulations that essentially mirror her executive orders, and thus Michigan remains under strict control.

“I have a kindergartner who has to wear a mask; you’ve got kids 5, 6 years old forced to wear a mask for six or seven hours a day,” Mr. Barrett said.

With Facebook refusing to offer any reasons for exiling his group, Mr. Soldano shifted to a nonprofit organization, Stand Up Michigan to Unlock Michigan, but said it is difficult to match Facebook’s reach.

“Just last week I threw up a Hail Mary and asked them again if I could have my group back,” he said. “I never got a reply.”

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