More On: BLM
Social media corporations should not conceal up negative reporting about Black Lives Matter.
When George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was slain by Minneapolis cops in May 2020, contributions flooded in for Black Lives Matter (BLM) from people who felt they were helping to fund racial justice projects and guarantee bad-actor cops were held accountable for their violent crimes.
Surely some of the funds were used for it. However, $6 million of those funds were used to purchase a 6,500-square-foot mansion in Southern California with a pool and a cottage.
1) Nonprofit spends millions on luxury housing.— Conor Friedersdorf (@conor64) April 5, 2022
2) Journalists report on their spending.
3) Activists at the nonprofit characterize criticism of their spending as abuse, target journalists with a private investigator.
4) Facebook censors the journalism.
In October 2020, Black Lives Matter received $66.5 million from generous donors. Later that same month, a man named Dyane Pascall—the financial manager for BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors' consulting firm—bought the $6 million house. "Pascall transferred ownership of the house to an LLC established in Delaware by the law firm Perkins Coie," Sean Campbell reports at Intelligencer, which "ensured that the ultimate identity of the property's new owner was not disclosed to the public."
The house's raison d'être has remained a mystery since then. It not only acts as a secure space for high-ranking members of the organization to sleep when they need it, but it also functions as a location to record content for posting on social media, both for the BLM account and for Cullors' own initiatives (like a peach cobbler cooking video, notes Intelligencer).
More from Campbell:
On March 30, I asked the organization questions about the house, which is known internally as "Campus." Afterward, leaders circulated an internal strategy memo with possible responses, ranging from "Can we kill the story?" to "Our angle — needs to be to deflate ownership of the property." The memo includes bullet points explaining that "Campus is part of cultural arm of the org — potentially as an 'influencer house,' where abolition+ based content is produced by artists & creatives." Another bullet is headed "Accounting/990 modifications" and reads in part: "need to first make sure it's legally okay to use as we plan to use it." The memo also describes the property as a "safehouse" for leaders whose safety has been threatened. The two notions — that the house is simultaneously a confidential refuge and a place for broadcasting to the widest possible audience — are somewhat in tension. The memo notes: "Holes in security story: Use in public YT videos."
None of this is technically illegal, but all of it is ill-advised if your goal is to ensure donors trust that their money will be used to advance racial justice, not personal enrichment for the founders. And these reports, from both Intelligencer and the New York Post, are extraordinarily damning for an organization whose leaders have already come under scrutiny for their extravagant spending. Cullors' posh real estate holdings totaling at least $3.2 million were the subject of a prior New York Post piece that ended up being censored by Facebook, unable to be shared on the platform.
This isn't the first time the Post has run afoul of the Facebook overlords. In February 2020, the publication ran one of the earliest pieces introducing the theory to U.S. audiences that the coronavirus may have been the result of a lab leak—a theory that became popular in May 2021, with The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic running articles that began to take the theory seriously, and one that still, months later, hasn't been discredited.
Facebook's fact-checkers somehow deemed the Post's reporting untrue, but reversed the ban on sharing man-made lab leak information in…May 2021.
And, in October 2020, after the Post published a report on Hunter Biden's laptop, Twitter suspended the publication's account while Facebook took steps to limit the reach of the article. Just last month, The New York Times confirmed that the initial reporting checked out with its own story on the Biden laptop. (Former head Jack Dorsey commented in November 2020 that Twitter had erred in its decision and reiterated his expansive commitment to free speech principles in congressional hearings months later, though Twitter has still been the subject of ongoing content moderation controversy.)
It's not simply that such censorship is undesirable in principle (it is! ), but it's also because the censors are frequently incorrect and inept in determining what is true and false. Private firms like Twitter and Facebook/Meta have complete discretion over their content moderation policies, yet it's easy to spot patterns in who and what they target. It's not necessarily that the information is erroneous; sometimes it's just that the reporting is humiliating to certain political causes or contradicts a popular narrative.
It's unclear why a lavish 6,500-square-foot $6 million estate is required to prevent police brutality and achieve racial justice for African-Americans. It's even less apparent why Facebook would wish to keep this material hidden from curious users, unless it sees its function as merely interfering on behalf of political supporters, suppressing genuine journalism when it's damaging to them.