Facebook has issued an apology to one of our founder members after the Free Speech Union helped to assemble a powerful coalition of MPs and peers to object to the company’s censorship of a well-known journalist and vocal critic of the SNP.
The parliamentarians, who included the Chairman of the 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady, former chancellor Lord Lamont and former Labour MP Kate Hoey, wrote to Sir Nick Clegg, the Vice-President of Facebook and Chair of its Oversight Board, criticising the decision to ban attempts by Brian Monteith, a former member of the Scottish Parliament, to advertise articles in his conservative online magazine.
In an open letter to the former Deputy Prime Minister, the MPs and peers claimed that Monteith had been the victim of “vexatious, politically motivated complaints by SNP activists”, saying that “articles that are critical of Scotland’s SNP Government receive a torrent of abuse from independence supporters…”
In the letter, which the Free Speech Union pulled together, the parliamentarians pointed out that the reason given for the ban was that the articles breached its “Vaccine Discourager” policy. Yet of the articles that triggered the ban: “one was on the similarities between Nicola Sturgeon and Nicolai Ceausescu, the second was about how more devolution would non appease the SNP, and the third was on lockdown policy – none of the articles included the word ‘vaccine’.”
Monteith’s next attempt to advertise, which was also refused on the grounds that he was disseminating anti-vaxx disinformation, included an article about the first Gulf War, written by a former tank commander, and a young mother talking about her experiences of toilet training her daughter. Again, the word ‘vaccine’ wasn’t mentioned.
The letter continued: “Facebook has a duty to run its advertising business in a professional way and without political bias. After all, the SNP was permitted to spend almost £100,000 on Facebook advertising in the 2014 Referendum and the company’s global government policy team bragged about the impact of the SNP’s paid advertising on Facebook on the 2015 Scottish election, which the SNP won.”
It concluded by saying Facebook must immediately lift the ban on Monteith, apologise to him and do more to stop political activists from trying to silence their opponents.
In response to the letter, Facebook has now apologised to Brian Monteith and lifted the block on all the articles in Think Scotland.
Toby Young, founder of the Free Speech Union commented: “This is a troubling case where a respected journalists and policy expert has been banned from advertising on Facebook for incomprehensible reasons. To say that Brian breached the vaccine discourager policy, when, in the vast majority of these articles, there was no mention of Covid or the vaccine, is frankly bonkers.
“I suspect that no one in Facebook had actually read the articles and the ban was solely due to the energetic lobbying of cyber-Nats who only support free speech when it praises Nicola Sturgeon and promotes Scottish independence.
“I’m delighted that Facebook has now apologised to our member and lifted the ban. In future, instead of allowing itself to be gamed by political activists, the social media company should be protecting courageous journalists like Brian Monteith who are trying to hold powerful politicians to account. If free speech in Scotland means anything at all it means the right to tell Nicola Sturgeon things she does not want to hear.”