Facebook groups were filled with calls for violence ahead of the US elections

Facebook groups were filled with calls for violence ahead of the US elections

Before Facebook shut down the fast-growing “Stop the Steal” Facebook group on Thursday, the forum included calls for members to prepare their weapons in case President Donald Trump lost his bid to remain in the White House.

By disabling the group after coverage by Reuters and other news organizations, Facebook He cited the forum’s efforts to delegitimize the electoral process and “worrying calls for violence by some members.”

Such rhetoric was not uncommon in the run-up to the elections in Facebook Groups, a key driver of engagement for the world’s largest social network, but it did not always receive the same treatment.

A survey of US-based Facebook groups between September and October conducted by digital intelligence firm CounterAction at the request of Reuters found rhetoric with violent overtones in thousands of politically oriented public groups with millions of members.

Variations of twenty phrases that could be associated with calls to violence, such as “lock and load” and “we need a civil war,” appeared alongside references to election results in approximately 41,000 cases on public Facebook groups based in the US in the two month period.

Other phrases, such as “shoot them” and “kill them all,” were used in public groups at least 7,345 times and 1,415 times respectively, according to CounterAction. “Hang him” appeared 8,132 times. “Time to start shooting folks,” read one comment.

Facebook said it was reviewing CounterAction’s findings, which Reuters shared with the company, and that it would take steps to enforce policies “that reduce real-world damage and civil unrest, including in Groups,” according to a statement provided by spokeswoman Dani Lever.

The company declined to say whether the examples shared by Reuters violated its rules or to say where it draws the boundary for deciding whether the phrase “incites or facilitates serious violence,” which under its policies is grounds for removal.

Prosecutors have linked several disrupted militia conspiracies to Facebook groups this year, including a planned attack on Black Lives Matters protesters in Las Vegas and a plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan.

To address the concerns, Facebook announced a series of policy changes since the summer aimed at curbing “militarized social movements,” including US militias, the Boogaloo networks and the QAnon conspiracy movement.

It says it has removed 14,200 groups based on those changes since August.

As pressure on the company intensified ahead of the election, Zuckerberg said Facebook would halt recommendations for political groups and new groups, though that move did not stop the “Stop the Steal” group from growing to more than 365,000 members in fewer. 24 hours.

Meaningful connections

Facebook has aggressively promoted Groups since CEO Mark Zuckerberg made them a strategic priority in 2017, saying they would encourage more “meaningful connections,” and this year featured the business in a Super Bowl commercial.

Last month he stepped up the promotion of Groups in news sources and search engine results, even as civil rights organizations warned that the product had become a breeding ground for extremism and misinformation.

Anyone on Facebook can view, search, and join public groups. Groups also offer private options that hide posts, or the existence of the forum, even when a group has hundreds of thousands of members.

Facebook has said that it relies heavily on artificial intelligence to monitor forums, especially private groups, which generate few reports of user misbehaviour, as members tend to be like-minded, to flag posts that can prompt action. violent to human content reviewers.

While the use of violent language doesn’t always amount to an actionable threat, Matthew Hindman, a machine learning and media expert at George Washington University who reviewed the results, said Facebook’s artificial intelligence should have been able to select common terms for its review.

“If you still find thousands of ‘shoot’ em and ‘get a rope’ cases, you’re looking at a systemic problem. There’s no way a modern machine learning system would miss something like that,” he said.

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