Facebook Reverses Ban Against Virginia Gun-Rights Group

Refuses to provide details on suspensions but reverses them

A VCDL bus in Richmond, Virginia on January 18, 2021 / Facebook
January 25, 2021

Facebook reinstated several accounts connected to a leading Virginia gun-rights group one week after suspending its pages without explanation.

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), told the Washington Free Beacon on Monday his Facebook account had been restored along with those of other VCDL leadership and the group's official page. Facebook suspended and deactivated several of its accounts in the lead-up to the group's lobby day on Jan. 18. Even after the lobby day event went off without incident, Facebook continued to purge VCDL leadership from the site. Ken van Wyk, a VCDL executive member who helps organize the event each year, saw his account deactivated as he attempted to memorialize baseball great Hank Aaron on Friday.

"I’m a pro-2A conservative, but I’ve never advocated for anything unlawful," he told the Free Beacon. "I’d just finished posting an 'RIP Hank Aaron' note when my 'session timed out,' and I was told my account was disabled. I tried to go through their process to have this reviewed and immediately got a note saying that I had violated their community standards and their decision could not be reversed." 

After defending Van Cleave's suspension for violating the company's "coordinating harm policies" and saying the decision "was re-reviewed and stands" on Thursday, Facebook went a step further and suspended the VCDL page on Friday. Several hours later, the VCDL page had been restored though the personal pages of VCDL leaders remained suspended.

"The Page was removed in error," Kristen Morea, a Facebook spokeswoman, told the Free Beacon on Friday night. "We have since restored the Page and admins and apologize for the inconvenience." 

By Monday, personal accounts of the VCDL leaders—including Van Cleave—had been restored as well.

While Facebook explained their reversal on the VCDL page, it did not explain why it stood by the banning of Van Cleave on Thursday only to reverse themselves on Monday. The company also refused to answer questions on what, if anything, Van Cleave had done wrong. Morea said the company could not provide any details on how Van Cleave was determined to have violated their policies or which posts they found concerning. "We don’t share further details about enforcement out a [sic] very real and credible threat that people can game the system," she said. 

The VCDL accounts were banned as social media and tech companies swept away huge numbers of accounts in the aftermath of the Capitol riot. Mailchimp booted VCDL from their service shortly before Facebook banned Van Cleave in the lead up to the group's peaceful lobby day event in Richmond, Va. While the companies have justified the mass bans as necessary to disrupt communications between potentially violent extremists, critics have pointed to the VCDL ordeal and other account suspensions as evidence peaceful groups are being caught in the dragnet without so much as an explanation for why. 

"Suddenly, poof, it was back," Van Cleave said of his account. "No explanation as to why it disappeared and why it's now back and how it was so bad that they couldn't even discuss restoring it, yet they restored it." 

Van Cleave said he was frustrated by Facebook's apparent targeting of the group because VCDL was not involved in the Capitol riots and has never had any violent incidents at its events. "I don't understand the whole ordeal," he said. "I don't put anything up there radical." 

He added that some VCDL members are reconsidering their use of Facebook in the aftermath of the suspensions. He feels VCDL simply was not treated properly by the social media giant. 

"They did this and said, well, you can appeal if you think we're wrong, and then they don't let you appeal," he said. "It's like a star chamber where you don't get to present your side or offer any evidence that they've made a mistake."