The “lateral thinking” movement is now much more difficult to find on Facebook and Instagram than before. The US company has deleted 150 accounts and groups of prominent members of the scene, including the channels of the founder Michael Ballweg and the large account “lateral thinking 711” with 30,000 subscribers. “Lateral thinking” groups on Whatsapp are not affected by the ban, although the messenger service, like Instagram, also belongs to the Facebook group.
As the reason for the crackdown, Facebook security chief Nathaniel Gleicher cited that the movement is “coordinating” with the aim of harming society. He and his team want to specifically combat this behavior, which Facebook calls “coordinated social harm”.
During the campaign, Facebook also deleted references to a number of “lateral thinkers” websites, which can no longer be linked from Facebook. In the still active group of the movement with the messenger service Telegram, users complained that Facebook had retroactively removed links they had posted, for example to live streams of demonstrations of the movement.
“Think outside the box” initiator Ballweg wants to take legal action against the deletion. He called on his followers to donate via Telegram. In particular, the Facebook page of “lateral thinking 711” with more than 30,000 subscribers only had content on the subjects of fundamental rights and freedom of expression, said Ballweg. You have already been able to legally defend yourself against unjustified deletions several times in the past few months, he said.
The Baden-Württemberg Interior Minister Thomas Strobl (CDU) spoke of “good news”. These closures will make it much more difficult for the scene to spread their propaganda and make it more difficult for the population to continue, said the minister.
“Lateral thinker” as the first application of the new Facebook rules
The teams of Facebook’s security chief Gleicher have so far been primarily responsible for uncovering state-controlled campaigns of influence and throwing them off the platform. The same special unit was launched in 2017 after the US election campaign as a reaction to the coordinated opinion-making of Russian Internet trolls before the election. Since then, Gleichers team has had multiple networks of fake accounts from Russia, Iran, Vietnam and Myanmar removed.
But especially after the storming of the US Capitol by supporters of the elected President Trump in January, it became clear that Facebook had rules for fake accounts, but had no idea how to deal with real actors who violated Facebook rules in a coordinated manner . The action against the German “lateral thinking” movement is now the first application of the new rules against so-called “Coordinated Social Harm” https://www.sueddeutsche.de/wirtschaft/. “These rules allow us to take various measures, including reducing the reach of content and deactivating pages, groups and accounts, “writes the same in a blog post.
The “lateral thinking” movement is a danger for other users because it has violated the community standards of Facebook in a coordinated manner and repeatedly, said Facebook security chief Gleicher: “This includes the publication of health-related misinformation, hate speech and incitement to violence.”
The “harmful network” was operated by people who were associated with violence outside the platform and other “social harm”, said Facebook manager Gleicher. In contrast to Russian trolls, for example, authentic users are usually involved in these coordinated campaigns. “These are not fake profiles, but real people who organize themselves to systematically violate our guidelines and to cause damage on or outside of our platform,” said Gleicher.
Conspiracy belief and calls for violence
“Lateral thinking” is primarily focused on promoting the conspiracy narrative that the German government’s Covid-19 restrictions are part of a larger plan to deprive citizens of their freedoms and fundamental rights. “As is known from the public media, this group has exercised real violence in Germany against people who work in journalism, the police or in the health sector,” said a blog entry by the Facebook manager. Although Facebook does not want to ban “lateral thinking” in principle on the entire platform, it will take measures again as soon as it discovers further violations by “lateral thinking” supporters.
The supporters of the “lateral thinking” initiative have been taking to the streets against the state corona measures for months. During the demonstrations in Berlin and other cities, there were also attacks on police officers and media representatives.
The movement is now being observed by various state offices for the protection of the constitution. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has the scene as a “collective observation object” in its sights, similar to Salafism. Secret service resources can also be used for surveillance, and bank accounts and financial flows between the actors can be screened.
At the end of May, the YouTube video platform had already deleted the “Quer Think 711” channel. At the time, a Google spokesman accused the controversial group of violating YouTube’s guidelines for misinformation. Michael Ballweg, spokesman for “Quer Think 711”, denied the allegations and announced that he wanted to switch to a decentralized alternative to YouTube. In the social networks, “lateral thinking” is now mainly on the move with the Telegram messenger service, which does not delete even extremist content.