- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Facebook has shut down two groups this month in Illinois that were opposed to Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, moving against them suddenly and without warning after they had operated for months, its founder said.

Laura Grock, a lawyer who founded the nonprofit conservative group Remember America Action, said she was startled by the moves that come at a time when the social media giants appear to be aggressively stifling conservative speech.

“I wish I could understand Facebook’s mentality,” she said. “I can’t figure out what Facebook’s standards are. The rules seemed to change for our group in early October.”

Ms. Grock has filed a lawsuit against Mr. Pritzker, accusing him of exceeding his authority by imposing widespread and lengthy economic lockdowns in Illinois in response to COVID-19.

Ms. Grock started the groups last spring. One, called “Join Pritzker Lawsuit” had 62,000 members. The other, which was a more generally focused group urging Mr. Pritzker’s recall, had 32,000 members, she said.

Conservatives are furious at what they see as a widespread cyberspace kneecapping as social media platforms repeatedly ghost, block or erase content that might reflect badly on Democrats as Election Day nears.

In the most celebrated example, both Facebook and Twitter have labored to restrict access to explosive reports in The New York Post on content found on an abandoned laptop that reportedly contained extensive information on questionable arrangements between foreign companies and Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden.

The foreign companies that paid Hunter Biden huge sums were chiefly headquartered in Ukraine and China, both countries for which his father was the point man while vice president in the Obama administration.

But U.S. examples of social media giants’ alleged censorship also have begun to blossom. Ms. Grock’s Facebook groups were crippled by the company at roughly the same time the social media behemoth took identical steps against Michigan groups opposed to the state’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer. They have filed a lawsuit against her for her coronavirus-related lockdowns.

The Michigan state supreme court upheld the lawsuit against Ms. Whitmer and struck down the 1945 law on which she had based her stringent lockdowns without legislative approval.

Ms. Grock’s lawsuit against Mr. Pritzker has been put on hold because the judge to which it was assigned has been appointed to the federal bench and a new one has not been appointed.

Ms. Grock, 52, said she and members of the “Join Pritzker Lawsuit” group had been posting for months without incident until Oct. 6 when Facebook abruptly disabled the group and retroactively blocked multiple posts. She objected to the sudden move in a letter to the company Oct. 7, to which she said she has received no reply.

Among the posts Facebook disabled was a meme of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in a bikini cradling a semi-automatic rifle. Facebook said that joke violated “community standards on adult nudity and sexual activity.”

Another post from May 2, which questioned the financial backing of Gilead Pharmaceuticals, the maker of remdesivir to fight COVID-19, and touted the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine in fighting the virus was removed for violating “community standards on misinformation that can cause physical harm.”

Facebook requested copies of the posts in question, which The Washington Times provided, and said it would investigate.

According to a person at Facebook familiar with the matter, the group urging Mr. Pritzker’s recall appeared to be active Tuesday evening, while the group backing the lawsuit had been shut down for violating privacy policies.

It is not unusual to have a time lapse between content being posted and its being removed, a company spokesperson said.

Fearing something similar would befall her Facebook group supporting Mr. Pritzker’s recall, Ms. Grock said she has furiously policed the site, taking down posts that had stood for weeks and rejecting multiple new posts.

“I’m forced to censor people now and that doesn’t sit well with me,” she told The Times. “I don’t want to be the censor.”

A recall petition for Mr. Pritzker that Ms. Grock posted at change.org has acquired more than 142,000 signatures but that effort is without any real legal standing, she said. There are multiple recall petitions active in Illinois that she said combined have received hundreds of thousands more signatures.

Ms. Grock acknowledged, however, that the recall effort fell short of getting the proposal on the November ballot. Illinois law requires signatures from more than 15% of the electorate that comprised the most recent gubernatorial election.

“There’s definitely a lone wolf-itis syndrome active in Illinois with conservatives,” Ms. Grock said. “It would be nice if we all worked together, but there are a lot of splinter groups.”

One such group is Remember America Action, which from its founding in 2013 cited combatting censorship of conservatives as one of its core missions.

“Social media giants like Twitter and Facebook are censoring news and opinion to influence election outcomes,” the group’s website says. “This validates Remember America’s original mission to teach young conservatives coding so we can build our own social media platforms and apps. As of right now, conservatives are at the mercy of Silicon Valley.”

At the moment, conservatives just don’t get it, Ms. Grock said.

“I’ll go to CPAC and the like and all the kids want to be Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson and who can blame them?” she said, mentioning the two opinion anchors of Fox News’ evening lineup. “And conservative donors are still locked into the mindset of giving to think tanks and position papers and the like. That’s all good, but when it comes to websites and apps and social media, the conservatives just aren’t in that space yet at all.”

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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