MATTAWAN, Mich. — When Garrett Soldano created the Facebook group Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine on April 9, 500 people joined by the time he went to bed that night, he said.
The next morning he woke up to 5,000 members.
“Then we grew by 100,000 people every single day for three days straight,” Soldano said during an interview with FOX 17 on Wednesday. “And, right after we got over 300,000 that’s when the censorship of Facebook came down and then we were trickling at 1,000 to 2,000 [new members] a day.”
As of Tuesday, they grew to close to 400,000 members, he said.
Then Tuesday night, Facebook shut them down.
“They have guidelines and they didn’t want anything where you would support any protests or rallies,” Soldano said. “Our group did not.”
Soldano said that the group did not support the gridlock protest in Lansing in April, even though they believe in people’s Constitutional rights to assemble.
He added that he believed the quarantine was necessary in the beginning to assess its affects and consequences. However, the governor’s blanket stay-at home executive order was excessive, he said.
“Why did we have to have a blanket approach in the whole state of Michigan, especially with the [Upper Peninsula] and the rural counties?” Soldano said. “Couldn’t we have slowly opened up and just tested it out? The blanket approach does not work.”
He said many people in the group felt the same way and the admins did their best to keep hateful language out.
Soldano said the group was shutdown after he did a Facebook live video regarding a barbershop’s decision in Owosso to open despite the executive order.
“I didn’t interview anybody. I was just there supporting,” Soldano said. “And they actually sent me a message last night that it was against their guidelines, that we were spreading disease basically. And I was like ‘wow’ and then we got shutdown.”
Soldano was overwhelmed, he said.
He and his admins were meticulous in following Facebook’s guidelines, he said.
“That’s why we have a huge group of moderators and admins because the trolls are going to get through. People are going to try to stir up everything,” Soldano said. “We try to get that off because we are a non-violent, positive movement, a bipartisan movement.”
FOX 17 reached out to Facebook who stated in an email that individuals and groups are allowed to criticize the government and policies. However when they violate Community Standards, that’s when they are removed.
In the case of Soldano’s group, Facebook stated that they committed several violations and subsequently removed several posts. They ultimately decided Tuesday to remove the group for good.
Soldano said it won’t stop their message.
He believes Facebook censorship went too far, he said. So he and the other admins created another group called Stand Up Michigan.
It launched Wednesday at 6 p.m. It gained 30,000 followers within its first 13 hours, before the the actual launch.
He said it'll contineu to grow.
“We’re going to win this fight,” Soldano said. “And I will continue to fight and everybody on our group and our page will continue to go forward with this thing.”