The “lateral thinking” movement is now much harder to find on Facebook and Instagram than it used to be. The American company has deleted 150 accounts and groups of prominent members of the scene, including the channels of 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 messaging service, like Instagram, is also owned by the Facebook group.
The reason for the crackdown cited Facebook security chief Nathaniel Gleicher as saying the move is “coordinated” with the aim of harming society. He and his team want to specifically tackle this behavior, which Facebook describes as “coordinated social harm.”
During the campaign, Facebook also removed references to a number of “side thinker” websites, which can no longer be linked from Facebook. In the movement’s still active group with messaging service Telegram, users complained that Facebook retroactively removed links they had posted, for example to live streams of movement protests.
The initiator of “Think outside the box” Ballweg wants to take legal action against the deletion. He called on his supporters to donate through Telegram. In particular, the “lateral thinking 711” Facebook page with more than 30,000 subscribers had content only on the topics of fundamental rights and freedom of expression, Ballweg said. In recent months, it was already possible to legally defend against unwarranted deletions, he said.
Baden-Württemberg Interior Minister Thomas Strobl (CDU) spoke of “good news”. These closures will make it much more difficult to spread propaganda to the scene and prosecute the population, the minister said.
“Maverick” as the first application of the new Facebook rules
The teams of Facebook’s chief security officer, Gleicher, have so far been primarily responsible for uncovering state-controlled influence campaigns and removing them from the platform. The same special unit was launched in 2017 after the US election campaign in reaction to the coordinated opinion formation of Russian internet trolls ahead of the election. Since then, Gleicher’s team has repeatedly removed fake account networks from Russia, Iran, Vietnam, and Myanmar.
But especially after the storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President-elect Trump in January, it became clear that Facebook had rules for fake accounts, but had no idea how to deal with the real actors who were breaking Facebook’s rules in a coordinated fashion. 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 a variety of actions, including narrowing the scope of content and disabling pages, groups and accounts,” wrote the same in a blog post.
The “lateral thinking” movement is a danger to other users because it violated Facebook’s community standards in a coordinated and repeated manner, Facebook chief security officer Gleicher said: “This includes the posting of misinformation related to health, hate speech and incitement to violence. “
The “harmful network” was being exploited by people associated with off-platform violence and other “social damage,” Facebook official Gleicher said. Unlike Russian trolls, for example, genuine users are usually involved in these coordinated campaigns. “These are not fake profiles, but real people organizing to systematically break our guidelines and cause damage on or off our platform,” said Gleicher.
Conspiracy belief and calls for violence
The “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 fundamental rights and freedoms. “As the state media know, this group has exercised genuine violence in Germany against people who work in journalism, the police or the health sector,” said a blog entry from the Facebook official. Facebook does not want to ban “lateral thinking” in principle across the platform, but will take action again as soon as it finds new violations by supporters of “lateral thinking”.
Supporters of the “lateral thinking” initiative have been taking to the streets against the state’s corona measures for months. During protests in Berlin and other cities, there were also attacks on police and media representatives.
The movement is now observed by various state offices for the protection of the constitution. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has in its sights the scene as an “object of collective observation”, like Salafism. Intelligence services can also be used for surveillance and bank accounts and financial flows between actors can be filtered.
At the end of May, the YouTube video platform had already deleted the “Quer Think 711” channel. A Google spokesperson accused the controversial group of violating YouTube guidelines on disinformation. Michael Ballweg, spokesperson for “Quer Think 711”, denied the allegations and announced that he wanted to switch to a decentralized alternative to YouTube. In social media, “lateral thinking” is now mostly in operation with the Telegram messaging service, which doesn’t even remove extremist content.