A lawmaker on the House Armed Services Committee is pressing Facebook to explain why it banned advertisements from a conservative-leaning newspaper that has investigated Chinese human rights abuses, in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg exclusively obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.) has requested that Facebook explain its reasons for banning the Epoch Times from advertising on the social media site. The lawmaker suggests the paper was banned in part due to its critical coverage of the Chinese communist government's routine human rights abuse.
The letter comes at a time when the proliferation of Chinese communist propaganda in the United States is under increased scrutiny. Banks and other lawmakers are investigating how the communist regime spreads propaganda in the United States while using its international economic leverage to censor content within the country.
Banks in his letter to Zuckerberg accuses Facebook of removing the Epoch Times ads in a bid to appease China's government, which has oppressive censorship rules that govern websites and their business interests in the country. The ban appears to be "another instance of Facebook suppressing an opinion it dislikes," according to the lawmaker.
"Congress will not sit by while Facebook hinders the Epoch Times‘ efforts to overcome Chinese persecution," Banks wrote. "By prohibiting the Epoch Times from advertising, you have indirectly aided the Chinese Communist Party in their worldwide soft power competition with the United States—using the same censorship tactics as [communist leader] Xi Jinping."
The Epoch Times was prohibited from advertising its anti-China content on July 18 for allegedly violating the company's ad policies and seeking to skirt its content review systems. The news outlet created secondary accounts to purchase advertising as a workaround to the ban, violating Facebook's guidelines. However, Banks says the workaround was only done in response to what he describes as a politically motivated initial ban on the Epoch Times‘s anti-China content.
"The Epoch Times ‘tried to get around' Facebook's review systems by failing to identify themselves as the purchaser of their second round of advertisements," Banks writes. "This is a violation of Facebook guidelines, to be sure. But they ‘tried to get around your review systems' only after Facebook banned the Times‘ first account from advertising. Your spokesperson omitted any justification for the initial ban. Because your spokesperson failed to specify, I ask: which Facebook advertising policies did the Epoch Times violate before you closed their main account?"
The news outlet circulates some 1.6 million print copies weekly and, through its website and print edition, is distributed in 35 countries and in 17 different languages. Its primary coverage focuses on exposing Chinese human rights abuses and other anti-democratic actions by the ruling communist regime, making it one of the country's top journalistic enemies.
"Because its founder is an ex-Chinese citizen and almost all its staff are Chinese-speaking, the Epoch Times has been able to retain an incredibly large network of Chinese sources in mainland China," Banks wrote. "Its ties to China, coupled with its international circulation, put the newspaper in a special position. The Times is better suited than any Western newspaper to access information in China, and it's able to report on and distribute that information to interested parties without being censored—at least by the Chinese Communist Party."
"Regardless of your feelings on their editorial content, the Epoch Times is not a ‘fringe' news site," Banks wrote.
The lawmaker is pressuring Facebook to explain its ban and provide information to help Congress determine if the social media site is capitulating to censorship pressure from communist China.
"Mr. Zuckerberg, I take the threat posed by China extremely seriously," Banks wrote. He added that the United States "cannot afford to have domestic companies aid the Chinese Communist Party's effort to censor dissenting viewpoints."
Banks calls on Facebook to provide Congress with a reason for the initial ban.
"I hope you will provide a concrete reason for your initial decision to ban the Epoch Times from advertising, and that this isn't another instance of Facebook suppressing an opinion it dislikes," the lawmaker wrote. "If an advertising policy violation did take place, I hope you weigh whether it justifies Facebook's decision to help the Chinese Communist Party. American companies should support America's values—not China's."