When an anti-Facebook group protested a company executive during a hearing in July, the company reportedly used their art against them, flagging it as anti-Semitic.
Protesters from Freedom From Facebook, a group that believes Facebook is a monopoly, held up signs during a House Judiciary Committee hearing for the company’s global policy management head Monika Bickert. The signs showed Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg as two heads of an octopus, a symbol that’s been used to denote monopolies.
The octopus has also been used as an anti-Semitic symbol – often with exaggerated facial features, a common hate symbol trope which the group didn’t use – and Zuckerberg and Sandberg are both Jewish.
An official from Facebook, which has invested heavily in campaign-style opposition research and tactics, called the Anti-Defamation League to flag the signs, according to a New York Times report this week. Later that day, the ADL called for the group to “pick a different image.” A Republican research firm that worked with Facebook was also accused of linking anti-Facebook protesters to George Soros, who has been the target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Freedom From Facebook denies that their signs were meant as anti-Semitic.
“Facebook was looking for a way to discredit us so they weaponized false allegations of anti-Semitism to distract from the critique, which they’re actually quite afraid of, which is the critique of monopolization,” said Matt Stoller, policy director at the Open Markets Institute. “It never crossed our mind that this was anything but a symbol of monopoly.”
The octopus has been used in political art for centuries to symbolize overreach. It’s been on maps – to depict Russia, Japan and the United States – and it’s been used, along with a snake, to depict monopolies. The most famous example of octopus-as-monopoly is a cartoon by Joseph Keppler about Standard Oil Co., once the largest company in America before the Supreme Court broke it up in 1911. Freedom From Facebook advocates for Facebook to be broken up, with Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp spun off into separate companies.
“Nobody alleged (the magazines of) anti-Semitism; they were just like, this was an article on monopoly, because it’s obvious that’s what it was,” Stoller said.
Facebook said it only meant to draw attention to the fact Freedom From Facebook was not a “spontaneous grassroots campaign.” Former hedge fund executive David Magerman has given more than $400,000 to the group because he believes Facebook has a “financial disincentive to protect users’ data,” he told Axios. Facebook called the accusations it had engaged in an anti-Semitic attack “reprehensible and untrue,” in a statement.