Washington, DC (TFC) – What started as a personal feud in which some supporters of Cop Block allegedly orchestrated the release of two prominent female journalists’ nude photos has spiraled out of control, and is beginning to call into question the actions of some of Cop Block’s membership. Most of the controversy centers on a screenshot that appears to show one of the men behind Cop Block’s main Facebook page demanding money to share the articles of large alternative networks.
A member of Cop Block was allegedly demanding outlets “donate” money in the amount of $1000 per outlet, per month. So if an outlet refused to “donate” to Cop Block, the subscribers to Cop Block’s page would then lose access to that reporting. How does that fit into Cop Block’s mission of exposing the truth? The outlets named in the message were The Anti-Media, The Free Thought Project, and Counter Current News. This seems like an incredibly shady practice for an activist group that is entirely based on the premise of sharing information and public accountability. It raises a lot of questions about a police accountability organization that demands transparency. If Cop Block can be paid to run content, can it be paid to silence content? Where does this money go? Does the quality of the reporting not matter, or is it just who can fork out the cash? It seems shady and underhanded. Luckily, The Fifth Column has an on-staff expert in all things shady and underhanded.
Justin King indicated that news outlets often take cash to plant stories or products in their articles, while stressing that it wasn’t something The Fifth Column, The Anti-Media, or Digital Journal did. He said it was certainly an ethical gray area, but that it happened all the time. He described it as “common practice.” King has written for Cop Block in the past and was probably aware of why I was asking. He limited the conversation to news outlets, which are businesses, and never discussed activist groups or the act of charging to share a story. In reference to the leaked photos and backlash, he has publicly stated that the “hashtag and discussion need to end.”
If journalists self-censor to protect an organization we support, are we any better than the “thin blue line” Cop Block campaigns against?
The question is (and it’s a question that might be decided by this little scandal): Is Cop Block a business profiting off of the police accountability movement, or is it an activist group striving for police accountability and transparency?
The Cop Block Network page states:
“The funds raised will be used to further the Network and will operate similar to that of a non-profit. Ultimately, I – Ademo Freeman – will take responsibility for the funds and will personally provide donors of the network with a breakdown of funds raised and the allocation thereof each month.”
There is no public accountability of the funds, which is a little odd for an organization claiming to be “similar to that of a non-profit” that strives for transparency. Considering that the subscriber base of Cop Block’s fan page is the commodity being monetized, shouldn’t we all get access to this? In Cop Block’s defense, the merchandising they sell has a markup and there is certainly some profit, but it isn’t an insane amount of profit. It’s comparable to any other business.
The actions of Cop Block make it a business that is selling their subscribers as a commodity, and an organization that is apparently willing to limit the effectiveness of its site and the cause for the sake of profit. In off the record discussions, many people expressed the idea “that everybody has bills.” If paying your bills are your objective, maybe marketing yourself as an activist group isn’t the best idea. If this was openly a for-profit corporation, the only scandal would be the alleged distribution of nude photos. Those associated with Cop Block have denied this allegation.
That allegation, if true, reeks of hypocrisy, considering Cop Block’s main page called for the arrest of officers that distributed nude photos. In a post on October 27, 2014 Cop Block lamented:
“Cops who admitted to stealing and distributing nude photos from the phones from young women they arrested have not, and likely will not be charged with a crime.”
But the integrity of Cop Block’s main Facebook page has certainly been called into question. Charging to share information related to the cause the organization is supposed to support is certainly unethical. I don’t see a “gray area.” It’s pretty black and white to me. It can be an activist group, or it can be an opportunistic profit-driven machine. Is it possible for it to be both? That’s something for their readers to decide.
Conflict of interest disclosure: Almost all of the staff of The Fifth Column is linked in some way to one of the news outlets named in the screenshot or Cop Block itself. The Fifth Column editorial staff has repeatedly said that they don’t censor their journalists. If you’re reading this and it isn’t heavily censored, I guess it’s true.
Editor’s Note: The names of the journalists who had their photos leaked were removed. It should also be noted that Cop Block is heavily decentralized and the actions of one or two members should not reflect on the whole group.
BREAKING UPDATE: Factions of the Anonymous collective have chosen sides and started a small scale cyberwar over the incident. So far, no significant defacements or hacks have occurred.