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Facebook warns against anti-social distancing protest “Operation Gridlock” (but does not delete event)

Have you heard about “Operation Gridlock?” It’s an event — organized on Facebook — to protest the institution of anti-COVID social distancing measures in Michigan. If all goes as planned, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of residents pressing for a quick reopening of the state’s economy will drive into Lansing and circle the state capital this Wednesday, April 15th.

The protest — launched by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, an organization billing itself as “Trump loving Americans who are sick and tired of the political establishment and the political machine that is solely focused on tearing down our President and his agenda” — represents the first organized, conservative-led pushback against recently-enacted anti-COVID measures taken across the nation by state governors.

“People always say: ‘Conservatives never protest because they are too busy working,'” reads the blurb copy for the event. “Well, guess what. You’re not working– so it’s time to PROTEST.”

Everyone, every citizen, every business owner needs to get out of their house, out of their chair and get in their car, or truck, or anything that is legal to drive on taxpayer funded roads. Then drive to Lansing to circle the Michigan Capitol Building at 100 N. Capitol Avenue at noon on April 15.

Come prepared for a traffic jam in Lansing! We WANT gridlock.

So far, 3,100 Michiganers have stated that they are “going” to the event, with some 14,000 merely “interested.”

Facebook has taken no action against the event, perhaps because it will involve no face-to-face contact (protesters will confine themselves to their vehicles) — and therefore no direct public health threat. Facebook does include, however, a blithe warning advising users that “it’s up to us to slow the spread of COVID-19. Everyone, including young and healthy people, should avoid large gatherings during this time.” The warning continues: “Stay up to date with public health guidelines from CDC.gov” and is accompanied by a button with a direct link to the government site.

Facebook is trying to have it both ways: allowing the continuing recruitment of folks to the event while warning them that it’s probably a bad idea to do so. By so straddling, it can avoid accusations that is interfering with the 1st Amendment rights of the protesters, while immunizing itself from claims that it is allowing a dangerous event to proceed without at least warning people about what the CDC recommends.

One can only wonder how many users will process this kind of cognitive dissonance, and whether Facebook’s mild, warning-based effort to flatten the humber of people attending will sustain any legal challenges that might emerge if people get sick or as a result of attending, or if emergency responders — forced to respond to handle the event’s called-for “gridlock” — are encumbered in the fulfillment of their official duties.



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