On Thursday, Facebook Inc FB.O said it had taken down a rapidly expanding community where some U.S. supporters had Aggressive rhetoric and false statements were posted by President Donald Trump that Democrats were stealing the result.
On Thursday afternoon, every 10 seconds, the “Stop the Steal” party, calling for “boots on the ground to defend the dignity of the vote,” added 1,000 new members and expanded to 365,000 members in a single day.
“A Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement,” The group was focused around delegitimizing the election process, and we saw alarming calls for violence from some of the group’s participants.
She said that during “this time of increased tension,” the move was in line with the “exceptional steps” Facebook was taking.
Supporters of the group protested the deletion, claiming they were planning peaceful demonstrations, that they were working hard to track the comments, and that no notice was issued by Facebook at the time. Chris Barron, the group’s spokesperson, said their political rivals have raised worries about stolen elections and organizing demonstrations, but did not face the same problems.
Barron said, “If Facebook wants to become the arbiter of the facts, then they have a lot of work to do.” In either case, “The election is over, so there is no sharing of election misinformation.”
An analysis of a small number of comments made to the community prior to its deletion showed no overt calls for abuse, but its organizing claim-that Democrats are “nullifying” the Republican votes-does not currently have any foundation. In the event of the President losing his re-election campaign, Trump and Republican supporters have laid the groundwork for months to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the U.S. election.
The president and his allies have taken to social media to attempt to turn the story around, floating conspiratorial theories using the hashtag # StopTheSteal, as election results display a brightening image for Trump’s Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, and as U.S. broadcasters and other major media outlets continue to brush off Trump’s premature claims of victory.
Yet social media platforms have shown less patience for misinformation and calls for violence linked to elections. A video from Trump’s account in which Biden claimed he has a comprehensive “voter fraud organization” was deleted on Thursday by Snap Inc’s SNAP.N Snapchat. Biden’s comment came during an interview in which he addressed his team battling electoral suppression attempts, and Snap decided that Trump’s use out of context violated his policy against undermining the legitimacy of democratic processes.
In a tweet, Trump’s social media campaign manager Ryann McEnany condemned Snap ‘s behavior, saying in all caps, “Why don’t they l l l”
On Thursday, Twitter removed an account used by former Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon after he recorded a video in which he called for the decapitation of FBI director Christopher Wray and for being disloyal to Trump by government infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci. The business policy against glorifying abuse was quoted by a Twitter spokesperson.
As vote counting continues, Twitter has also taken steps to curtail the spread of misinformation. For example, since Election Day on Tuesday, eight of the president’s 28 tweets have been placed behind a warning label stating they contain disputed facts.
But the takedowns and alarms are something for which the group “Stop the Steal” seems to have planned. Organizers guided new members to an email sign-up page before Facebook removed the group “in the event that social media censors this group.”
Members tended to scatter either to smaller lookalike communities or to social media services that were more elusive.
Paul Barrett, deputy director of the Stern Center for Business and Human Rights of New York University, welcomed the elimination of the party.
“Social media sites can not be used to promote anti-democratic and potentially violent activity,” said Barrett.
The deletion highlights the ongoing debate about groups on Facebook, which usually act as platforms for common interests, but which advocacy organizations and social media researchers have argued can harbor hyper-partisan misinformation.
“Arisha Hatch, executive director of Color of Change PAC, the political action committee of one of the largest online social justice organizations in the country, said:” Facebook has been facilitating and amplifying the technology that is now being used to attack our democratic process.
Last week, Facebook, which normally recommends groups to users that they might want to join, suspended these recommendations around the election for political groups and new groups.
The Trump action group Women for America First ran the now-removed “Stop the Steal” group. During his impeachment hearing, the non-profit coordinated demonstrations against the COVID-19 limitations and endorsed Trump.