In the wake of last week’s violence at the U.S. Capitol, Facebook today announced it will be taking additional steps to remove content referencing the phrase “stop the steal” on its platform. The phrase is associated with the right-wing campaign that falsely alleges the democratic U.S. elections have been rigged and aims to keep Trump in power by any means necessary, including, now, violent insurrection. Facebook had previously removed some of the original Stop the Steal groups in November, and says it has continued to remove Pages, groups and events that violate its policies, including calls for violence.
As TechCrunch had previously reported, Facebook had also begun to block election conspiracy hashtags back in November 2020, including #sharpiegate and #stopthesteal. Searches for those would not return groups or posts, as a result.
However, the cleanup effort was not as widespread or as ongoing as Facebook would have you believe. As of the time of writing, we’re aware of several active Facebook Groups that are still literally called “stop the steal,” for example.
Facebook says its decision to take this further action has to do with the increased calls for violence in the U.S.
“We’ve been allowing robust conversations related to the election outcome and that will continue,” explained Facebook in an announcement co-authored by Facebook VP of Integrity, Guy Rosen, and Monika Bickert, VP Global Policy Management. “But with continued attempts to organize events against the outcome of the U.S. presidential election that can lead to violence, and use of the term by those involved in Wednesday’s violence in D.C., we’re taking this additional step in the lead up to the inauguration,” the blog post read.
“It may take some time to scale up our enforcement of this new step but we have already removed a significant number of posts,” the authors noted.
The company clearly wants to distance itself from being thought of as one of the platforms used by the organizers of the U.S. Capitol riot. In fact, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said in an interview with Reuters on Monday that the riot was “largely organized” on other internet services, not Facebook. She said that Facebook had taken down content from fringe groups, like QAnon, as well as Proud Boys and Stop the Steal groups, and anything that was talking about violence.
Facebook is not the only mainstream social platform actively removing content that violates its terms as the ramifications of social media’s more permissive policies have now resulted in violent protests and an attempted coup, as well as people’s deaths.
Several social media companies have also now removed Trump from their platforms, as Congress weighs impeachment for his incitement of violence. Meanwhile, the app stores and web services provider for the alternative social network Parler have also now given it the boot for the hate speech and calls for violence it hosted, as well.
Facebook says it will continue to staff its Integrity Operations Center on a 24/7 basis at least through January 22 in order to monitor and respond to threats in real time. This time frame is likely because the FBI now is warning of plans for armed protests in all 50 state capitals and Washington in the days leading up to President-Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, according to a report this morning from the AP. This is why Facebook’s Integrity Operations Center will need to be highly available during these days.
The Center had already been active ahead of Georgia’s runoff elections and Congress’s counting of the Electoral College votes. Its operations were extended due the Capitol protests, Facebook says.
The company notes, too, it will continue to work with law enforcement to remove content, disable accounts and respond to legal requests for user data.