In Dizzying About Face, Facebook Lifts Gun Group Ban

As recently as two weeks ago, company said it 'will not be republishing' Virginia Citizens Defense League's page

A VCDL bus in Richmond, Virginia on January 18, 2021 / Facebook
February 16, 2021

A top Virginia gun-rights organization is back on Facebook after another "enforcement error" from the social media company.

The Virginia Citizens Defense League's Facebook page was restored on Saturday after being banned from the platform at the end of January. The company, which had insisted that the ban was reviewed and final, conceded that it made a mistake in taking down the page for the second time in two months.

"After further review, we concluded that this page was removed as an enforcement error and have since restored it," a Facebook spokesperson said.

The company has flip-flopped on banning the group several times over the past month. At the end of January, Facebook banned the group's page before saying it "was removed in error" and apologizing. It then banned the page again without providing an explanation. A spokeswoman said the decision had been reviewed and vowed that the company "will not be republishing" the page. Now Facebook administrators have changed their minds once again without providing further insight into their opaque moderation practices.

The secretive way in which Facebook enforced its rules against the Virginia Citizens Defense League's page is likely to bring further scrutiny from conservative lawmakers already skeptical of the company's moderation practices. The targeting of a prominent gun-rights group over unexplained violations may drive more congressional inquiries into Facebook's practices and motivate advocates who seek to reform the laws governing content moderation. The confusing back and forth may also make groups and companies who use the platform wary of what the haphazard enforcement means for the followings they've built there.

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said that being able to communicate with his group's 67,000 Facebook followers about upcoming gun legislation is a real benefit—but that the instability of the moderation process has made him look elsewhere for the future.

"This has kind of forced us to speed up some of the expansions to other platforms," he said. "So that if we continue to be a bouncing ball, we can have stability somewhere else."

Facebook said that the group's page did violate its community standards but that it would again not share details on the offending conduct. A spokesperson said that, despite the violation, the page should not have been removed and warned that if the page violates the standards again, it risks being banned all over again.

"It's like the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing," Van Cleave said. "Now we're just waiting to see how long this lasts before we're banned again."