We can slay giants

Tech companies and thin-skinned billionaires won't get the final word

(DarwinPeacock, Maklaan / Wikimedia Commons)

I won’t say I picked a fight with Meta, one of the most influential companies in the world. But I think it’s fair to say I took targeted action as a means of proving the nefariousness of their censorship efforts. 

You’ll recall I republished a column Friday from the Kansas Reflector that was critical of Facebook’s ad policy on climate change and the link to which was blocked across Meta platforms on Thursday. 

As soon as I posted the link to my republished version of the column on Threads (Meta’s version of Twitter), it was taken down and flagged as a violation of community standards on cybersecurity. Shortly thereafter, all links to my site were blocked on all Meta platforms, and anyone who’d ever posted a story of mine received an alert that the link had been taken down due to that same cybersecurity violation. The same thing happened to the Reflector the day before, as I reported

Within minutes of realizing all links to The Handbasket were being blocked from posting, I discovered I could no longer post to Threads. I was, albeit it just for an hour, prevented from participating in a conversation that directly impacted my work and reputation. As someone who has used social media to amplify my voice and work for my entire adult life, it was an eery feeling. A bit Black Mirror-y for my taste.

But as pressure grew publicly on Meta, access to my links was restored late Friday afternoon, and spokesman Andy Stone finally addressed the issue on Twitter, of all places. His statement featured a lot of words with little meaning:

Due to a security error, links to the @KansasReflector were blocked for a period of time. The same security mistake prompted the blocking of links to @statesnewsroom and The Handbasket/@marisakabas2.

The incorrectly applied blocks have now been lifted from all three domains, but it does take time for our system to fully repopulate all the links.

This is undoubtedly frustrating and we sincerely apologize to all who have been impacted. We will continue to monitor the situation.

What was the security error? We don’t know. What caused the links to be blocked? We don’t know. And what about this apology is sincere? The answer is none of it, because I still have yet to hear personally from a Meta representative despite being namechecked by CNN and others as one of their main targets.

I can tolerate many things, but being treated like an idiot is not one of them. Something happened and no one will say what it is. And as a result of Meta’s arrogance, a column in a local news outlet has now been viewed nearly 14,000 times on The Handbasket alone.

In a Friday phone call with Sherman Smith, Editor-in-Chief of the Reflector, Stone, “wouldn’t elaborate on how the mistake happened and said there would be no further explanation.” Smith told me that when he asked Stone if the company planned to issue a follow-up alert to all the Facebook users who’d been told our links were flagged as malicious, Stone said no. He did, however, encourage Smith to write about it.

Though the earlier links have been restored, for me—and for Smith and the team at the Reflector, and the States Newsroom, who also had their link to the column blocked—the damage is done. We all received numerous emails from people who were worried about the safety of our content. Our trust has been undermined at a time when people need little reason to distrust the news.

I have a few takeaways from this experience so far:

1. It’s never been more important to have a diversity of social media platforms. With Meta holding the keys to three of the biggest platforms, and a white supremacist mad man at the helm of another, it’s essential to invest in burgeoning platforms that offer a lifeline from the whims of thin-skinned billionaires.

It’s no exaggeration to say that my story would not have taken off the way it did if not for Bluesky. It’s a tiny social platform compared to its predecessors, but it’s mighty. It’s because of the premium the community there places on a free press that they amplified the Meta blackout enough to get national news coverage. They sent me screenshots of what was happening when they tried to post my work to Meta platforms, and stayed engaged throughout the day as the baffling situation continued to unfold. 

Not only did I feel supported by my Bluesky network, I was heartened by the fact that a new media ecosystem has sprung from the ashes of Twitter. 

2. Independent and nonprofit media outlets have never been more important. The Reflector was able to post the column critical of Facebook’s ad policy because they don’t answer to corporate overlords. They fearlessly cover local Kansas government and politics day in and day out, and are an indispensable resource when so many local news outlets have been bought up and corrupted by larger entities. And as we saw with the police raid on the Marion County Record last summer, tech companies aren’t the only ones intent on silencing local outlets.

As for me, as an independent journalist, I feel freer than ever. I got the idea to repost the Reflector column while I was in the shower (during the freak New York-area earthquake, no less) and because I only have my subscribers to answer to, I was able to go right ahead and do it. No red tape—only the limits of my ability to copy edit myself. 

While putting myself out on a limb is risky and a little nerve-wracking, it ultimately feels right. Whether it’s the Substack founders or Ronna McDaniel, I’ve grown accustomed to taking big swings. It’s isolating and often alienates me from folks uncomfortable with this type of journalism, but I’ve realized that after building a platform for myself over the past decade, I sure as hell am going to use it. 

3. We can slay giants. I know the supposed looming AI takeover, the diminished capabilities of Google, and Amazon’s accelerated creep into every facet of our lives make it feel like it’s too late. But it’s not.

A couple of days ago, most people had never heard of The Handbasket; many people hadn’t heard of the Kansas Reflector. But here we are, taking on Meta. The powers that be have talked about us in hushed meetings. 

If we were nobody, if we meant nothing, if we didn’t present some sort of threat to their supremacy, they would feel no need to address us at all. I am just one woman sitting at a kitchen table in Brooklyn with her laptop, and they are a multi-billion dollar international company with every lever of power at their disposal. Yet here we are, facing off.

Will this fracas result in the dismantling of Meta? Not by a long shot. But there’s this pervasive mentality among tech giants that if they keep diminishing the power and prestige of the press and develop access-dependent relationships with large outlets that they’ll be insulated from criticism and unbound by a responsibility to do better. Yet we continue to see that that’s simply not the case.

Let me close with a few asks: 

  • Support The Handbasket by becoming a paid subscriber

  • Donate to the Kansas Reflector to keep their invaluable journalism going

  • Get a paid subscription to your favorite local or independent outlet

Thanks for reading.

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