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Facebook posts promoting violence still circulated even after insurrection

CNN's Sara Sidner reports on the use of social media by far-right extremists as experts fear the attack on the US Capitol may just be the beginning.

Posted: Jan 18, 2021 6:50 PM

Facebook posts promoting violence during inauguration week have circulated on the platform over the past week despite a crackdown by the social media giant since the January 6 insurrection, a tech watchdog group found.

"Patriots January 20, 2021 is your Tiananmen Square moment!!!" one post in a private pro-Trump Facebook group read.

"We need to organize our militia... Wars are won with guns.. and when they silence your commander in chief you are in a war," read another posted on January 9 to a public "Patriot Party" group with over 12 thousand members.

Other posts include people openly asking for details about joining a militia.

The posts were identified by the Tech Transparency Project (TPP), a nonprofit watchdog group.

Facebook removed the post referencing Tiananmen Square after being contacted by CNN.

"This post violated our Coordinating Harm policy and has been removed but important to note that it violated one of our policies that require more context and can't always be applied at scale. These policies often require specialized teams to gather more information on a given issue in order to make decisions," a Facebook spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added, "once you shared the post, our teams started to review, they brought in specialists from our Content Policy team and ultimately determined that in the context it was shared, it violated a section of our Coordinating Harm policy that requires additional teams/context to determine, and was removed."

Facebook said on Sunday that the "Patriot Party" group where the post referencing organizing a militia appeared had been "proactively detected by our teams" and was being removed. Facebook said on Monday that it had removed the group.

The posts highlight the challenge the tech giant faces in cracking down on domestic calls for violence.

"Facebook is proving it is not willing or capable of effectively moderating its platform and has become a danger to the public and to democracy," Katie Paul, director of TTP, told CNN Sunday night.

TPP told CNN it found the posts by using a Facebook account to join far-right groups.

TPP last week said it found evidence that Facebook was allowing ads for weapon accessories, body armor, and other military gear to be run on its platform targeted at users who have shown interest in far-right and militia groups.

Facebook announced Saturday it would stop accepting US ads for weapon accessories and protective equipment through at least Jan. 22.

A Facebook spokesperson told CNN last week that the company removed pages and groups representing militarized social movements and is continuing to take those pages down.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg last week appeared to downplay the role her company had in the insurrection saying most of the organizing had occurred on other platforms.

"Our enforcement is never perfect, so I'm sure there were still things on Facebook," Sandberg told Reuters in an interview. Then she added: "I think these events were largely organized on platforms that don't have our abilities to stop hate and don't have our standards and don't have our transparency."

A "Stop The Steal" Facebook group promoting the baseless conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was rigged gained hundreds of thousands of members during election week before Facebook shut it down.

The company only entirely banned content containing the phrase "stop the steal" after the insurrection.

But some of the groups and individuals spreading the conspiracy theory have sought to evade Facebook's content moderation systems, either by changing their group names to avoid triggering suspicion or by using other app functions to hide in plain sight, according to watchdog group Avaaz.

As recently as last week, Avaaz highlighted 90 public and private groups on Facebook dedicated to spreading false election fraud claims, and a half-dozen that had tried to circumvent Facebook's crackdown on "stop the steal" content. Since the groups were brought to its attention, Facebook has removed nine, Avaaz told CNN this week.

"We work with experts in global terrorism and cyber intelligence to identify calls for violence and remove harmful content that could lead to further violence," Facebook spokesman Andy Stone told CNN. "We are continuing all of these efforts and working with law enforcement to prevent direct threats to public safety."

Conspiracy theorists have also used Facebook product Instagram Stories to share debunked claims, Avaaz said. Instagram Stories are programmed to disappear after 24 hours, allowing misinformation peddlers to spread their messages to thousands before their content can be identified and caught.

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