Fact Check

Facebook 'Bernie Blackout'?

Facebook is not censoring content about Bernie Sanders or the hashtag #FeelTheBern.

Published Mar 30, 2016

Facebook is censoring posts about Bernie Sanders and the hashtag #FeelTheBern.

On 30 March 2016, the web site Source Planet published an article reporting that an anonymous Facebook operative had disclosed the existence of a conspiracy at the social network to block, ban, or suspend the posting of content or hashtags (including the ubiquitous #FeelTheBern) related to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders:

This is really scary, I'm a member in a lot of different groups from cars and trucks to Bernie Sanders even Hillary or Trump groups on Facebook. I use them all to promote Bernie, trying to change 1 mind a day.

Today I was talking to a Hillary supporter within a group called "Hillary VS Bernie". It was a very good conversation that lasted over 2 hours with a total of 86 comments. The Hillary supporters main subject was about how Hillary "Tells The Truth". I was trying to explain to her how Hillary lies over and over. She then turned the subject into saying "So does everyone even Bernie"

After about an hour of asking her to show any REAL proof of Bernie lying she gave up and said "Look it up your self" and "I don't have time for you". (These statements come after 2 hours of conversation).

My last comment was going to be, "Clearly you can’t post any proof nor can I because he never lies".

But when I hit enter I got this popup.


According to the anonymous writer, he reported the "glitch" to Facebook, and not long afterwards a Facebook employee purportedly contacted the author via a proxy e-mail address to explain that the glitch was in fact part of a suppressive conspiracy on the part of Facebook to bury anything related to Bernie Sanders:

A few hours went by and I got an email titled "Your Facebook appeal PLEASE READ"

It was not from abuse@facebook.com or any of the Facebook email addresses so I first thought spam, then I was like how can anyone know I'm blocked from posting anything on Facebook besides me?

The email was a guy saying he works for Facebook and to contact him via Skype. This was extremely weird, but I was curious to see where this was going.

He said "I work for Facebook, and I'm reaching out to people who have been blocked on Facebook after posting keywords like #FeelTheBern"

At this point I’m kinda freaking out……… How does anyone know I have been blocked from posting? They also have my personal email and know about me posting #FeelTheBern.

He then began to explain to me Facebook is actively and automatically blocking millions of accounts with a algorithm that detects people who post keywords like #FeelTheBurn. I for example was banned from posting anything for 30 days due to the fact I posted #FeelTheBern.

He also said Quote: "In a staff briefing everyone was told to deny any appeal that happened due to posting political opinions" (As he laughed and said these members are banned due to spamming give them time to calm down).

According to the writer, the anonymous Facebook employee who contacted him decided to start informing random users of the alleged ban on posting Sanders material after media outlets refused to report on his claims because "they are scared to post something without having a face to back it up with." However, this excuse rings hollow, as the use of anonymous or unnamed sources is common in the news media — some of the biggest scoops in media history (such as the Watergate scandal) began with off-the-record sources.

Not surprisingly, the web site on which the claim was published employs no verification techniques for their "reporters." Their "About" page explains that their only standard for publication is that articles are not plagiarized:

All you have to do is sign up

Soon as you confirm your email you can login to the admin panel and start posting.

Your post will only be visible after its reviewed. Please Note:

All of your post must pass 100% on https://smallseotools.com/plagiarism-checker

It would be difficult to examine such a claim without pointing out that the sheer number of posts and hashtags about Bernie Sanders is vast enough that it has been the subject of at least two late-night comedy program jokes. For example, the Daily Show's Trevor Noah quipped of Sanders' supporters:

Trevor on Bernie Sanders supporters: "Young people love him, independents love him, gun owners love him. And don't forget his strongest demographic: your friends on Facebook." https://on.cc.com/1Tb4HD6

Posted by The Daily Show on Thursday, February 11, 2016

Saturday Night Live also ribbed Sanders' supporters in the same fashion on 12 March 2016, during a segment involving actor Larry David as Sanders (at roughly the 2:35 mark below) in which David joked:

I want to thank everyone who voted for me, and I apologize to everyone else for making your Facebook feed so, so annoying. I mean, I love my supporters, but they're too much, right? I'm great, but I'm not five posts a day great. With all due respect to my supporters, get a life.

The comments section of the "Bernie ban" article was littered with users reporting similar incidents that were not directly related to the political nature of the material they were posting. Some described potential overuse of Facebook's content and publishing functions as missteps that could lead to temporary user restrictions (such as anti-spam measures):

I was sending messages using the Bernie Friend Finder to remind people to go to the primary or caucus in their state and got I a similar automated message that the action could not be completed, I was only stopped from sending messages for a short time though, not 30 days. This happened twice, each time after about 30 minutes of sending messages.

In others instances, users described interpersonal conflicts for which they might have been reported by other users for harassment:

This happened to me. I was blocked for a week for posting to Bernie groups. I was only posting voting information for the states that were set to vote that day. 1st I was blocked from posting to groups, then I was blocked from joining more groups & then I could not comment. Also, yesterday I wrote my opinion to a Shillary supporter, nothing unacceptable just my opinion, and was blocked again from posting after that. When I went to post it did allow me to take the screen shot & send a message FB about the problem this time. They actually released my block this time but it is likely temporary & I only tried posting 1 thing today. I have seen lots of other people comp,ain't of being blocked also from the Bernie groups.

Others made unrelated (and some anti-Semitic) inferences:

Mark Zukerberg is a Jew and probably siding with Hillary because Israel owns her! I am only guessing the source of this!

And some believed they'd been personally singled out by Hillary Clinton's campaign for silencing, not suspecting Facebook as a culprit:

During the 2nd Super Tuesday my entire PM messages including history for years "suddenly" disappeared...as though it never existed. I was in the process of responding to 3 separate pro-Bernie PM groups i am involved in. I suspected I was hacked by the Clinton machine....NOW??? FB?

In most instances, the users clearly described infractions that had nothing to do with Bernie Sanders or related hashtags. Those reports were likely linked to efforts to reach out to voters en masse using Facebook (for processes such as "Facebanking," a documented occasional block trigger):

I was told to slow down from pasting the link for the Arizona voting suppression link to as many pages as I could to get the word out! other wise my “privilege” for that action would be suspended

I was blocked today while inviting friends to a bernie event and all it said was ” i was moving too fast” and now can longer invite

Among those commenters were many more who pointed out they freely and frequently shared Sanders-related content or hashtags, that their own feeds were full of Sanders-related posts, and that scenarios described often fell afoul of Facebook's general, pre-existing rules.

We contacted Facebook to ask about the putative Bernie Sanders "ban," and they told us:

In just the last month, over 16 million people on Facebook in the U.S. engaged in the conversation about Bernie Sanders, posting, commenting on, sharing or liking Sanders-related content nearly 107 million times.

Anyone with a Facebook profile and an interest in American politics could probably attest to references to Bernie Sanders appearing frequently in their newsfeeds.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.