Gov. Phil Murphy said he “appreciated” Facebook’s removal of a page on the social network dedicated to exposing alleged corruption and cronyism in Lakewood – specifically when it came to overdevelopment – and reiterated his claim that the page was anti-Semitic in nature.
But the page’s organizers have said calls from Murphy and Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal for Facebook to delete the page were political in nature and a product of Murphy trying to solidify the growing Orthodox Jewish voting bloc in otherwise strongly Republican-leaning Ocean County. Shorebeat, through sources, has been informed of several appearances at political fundraising events by Murphy in Lakewood that were unannounced to the press. Further, Murphy’s candidacy was backed by the Lakewood Vaad, a powerful group of Orthdox Jewish leaders who wield almost universal influence over the voting habits of the bloc they represent.
“There remains much that should be done to stop the spread of hate on the Internet,” the joint statement from Murphy and Grewal said. “The Murphy Administration will continue to call out hate whenever and wherever we see it, we will persist in demanding meaningful reforms to address the proliferation of hate online, and we will continue working to make New Jersey a safe and inclusive place for all of our residents.”
Page organizers, however, penned a letter to Facebook of their own after the page was removed at around 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, just after publishing a story on the denial of a development application and an expected lawsuit that will be filed in order to overturn the decision.
“Politicians are an unusual creature, and you have to acknowledge that there is an enormous bloc of votes in Lakewood,” a page administrator, who only provided his first name in an earlier phone interview with Shorebeat, said, referring to Murphy. “Do I think he’s beholden to the Orthodox community? No. But do I believe there is a level of influence associated in that relationship that is not typical.”
In its appeal letter to Facebook, RUOC wrote that the page is intended to cover planning and zoning decisions in the fast-growing community, which has been linked to the exponential rise in the township’s Orthodox population.
“The major concern from the Governor and Attorney General seems to be our focus on the Orthodox Jewish community that is driving that growth,” RUOC wrote. “Our dialogue regarding that community is coincidental, there is no animosity represented toward that community by our page and no hint of anti-Semitism. To the contrary in our About section we make it clear that we welcome ALL to our efforts.”
Facebook’s action comes ten months after the Director of the state’s Division on Civil Rights, Rachel Wainer Apter, first sent a letter to Facebook “expressing concerns about racist and anti-Semitic statements on the page,” Murphy’s statement said.
“Since then, we’ve consistently and repeatedly made clear our view that the page appeared to violate Facebook’s terms of service, and we appreciate that Facebook has now decided that this kind of hateful rhetoric has no place on its platform,” the statement went on to say.
In more recent times, Murphy publicly appealed to Facebook to delete the page, going so far as to issue a press release calling for its termination.
“Over the last month you will note that our posts have softened, this has been by design as we are transitioning from an informational resource to an action resource,” RUOC wrote in its appeal. “We have deliberately steered away from controversial topics, all in an effort to respect the rules put in place by Facebook.”
The explanation provided by Facebook for unpublishing the page cites “using hate speech,” however RUOC said Facebook – after Murphy’s public statement last month – removed just two very old posts and nothing since has caught the attention of Facebook’s censoring algorithm.
The page administrators said they have a pre-planned media interview in the coming days, which was originally supposed to have been about overdevelopment in Lakewood.
“It would be tragic if that interview, that was intended to focus on over-development, the successes and failures of Rise Up Ocean County and our future path, turned into a five hour interview about Facebook, social media censorship and the willingness of an industry giant to buckle to the pressures being applied, under false pretenses we might add, by elected officials seeking to coddle a voting bloc,” the letter said.
Meanwhile, RUOC is communicating with its followers from its own website, www.riseupoceancounty.com.