Harm Reduction Nonprofit Sues Facebook Over Censorship

By Lindsey Weedston 07/25/19

“We are fighting for the rights of all users of the Internet to appeal from social media giants' decisions,” the nonprofit's rep told The Fix. 

facebook user about to log on to promote harm reduction
ID 20417286 © Viorel Dudau | Dreamstime.com

A Polish non-profit organization is suing Facebook for allegedly censoring its harm reduction content by deleting groups and pages on the social media platform that were related to helping people who use and are addicted to drugs.

The Civil Society Drug Policy Initiative (Społeczna Inicjatywa Narkopolityki, or SIN) filed the lawsuit in May and received a favorable ruling by the District Court in Warsaw in June, though Facebook can still appeal. 

The case is ongoing, but the court made an interim ruling prohibiting the social media company from removing any more fan pages, profiles or groups run by SIN on Facebook or Instagram.

The ruling also requires Facebook to store backups of the pages, profiles and groups it already deleted so that they can be restored should SIN win the overall suit. Facebook can appeal the ruling, but SIN is encouraged by this result.

The Bigger Issue

A recent report by Vice outlined the larger problem of Facebook pages, groups, posts, and ads being deleted and accounts being banned for promoting harm reduction principles and products.

In one case, the social media manager for a nonprofit organization called BunkPolice was banned from placing any ads on the platform after submitting and getting approval for ads promoting fentanyl testing kits.

The kits are used to test batches of illicit drugs for the extremely potent opioid, fentanyl, which has been responsible for a large percentage of the recent overdose deaths in the U.S. However, they got caught up in Facebook’s efforts to stop drug trafficking on its platform.

Fighting Censorship

In response to this problem, SIN has launched a “#blocked” campaign to speak out against what it considers to be a worrying spread of content control by large social media companies and censorship.

“Online platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter increasingly control what you can see and say online. Algorithms follow users’ activity, while filters and moderators address alleged breaches of terms of service,” the campaign website reads. “Unfortunately, there has also been a number of instances when legal and valuable content was removed, including historical photos, war photography, publications documenting police brutality and other human rights’ violations, coverage of social protests, works of art and satire.”

The NGO also published a corresponding video on YouTube the day after filing its lawsuit against Facebook. The video warns about social media giants having too much control over the content that everyday people see, and cautions that “you too could end up on their blacklist.” For SIN, this goes beyond the goal of harm reduction to freedom of speech rights for all internet users.

“We are fighting for the rights of all users of the Internet to appeal from social media giants' decisions,” said SIN representative Jerzy Afanasjew in an email to The Fix.

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at NotSorryFeminism.com. Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindseyWeedston