I feel like the reason Facebook was so resistant to implementing restrictions on white supremacists and conspiracy theorists is because that’s largely who its consumer base is now. While the social media company began implementing restrictions on pages that advocate violence and hate, a recent report has found that many extremist groups are still actively thriving on the site.
According to the Associated Press, a study by Avaaz, a nonprofit advocacy group that aims to combat misinformation found 267 pages and groups on Facebook that are associated with the Boogaloo Boys, QAnon conspiracy theories, and various extremist militias. The report found that the pages frequently shared posts glorifying violence to a combined 32 million users in the lead-up to both the 2020 election, and the Capitol riot on Jan. 6.
Despite these pages violating Facebook’s ban on posts that glorify violence, Avaaz found that 119 of the pages were still active as of March 18 and had a combined 27 million followers. Upon reviewing the 119 pages, Facebook told AP that only 18 “actually violated” the company’s policy, and they were removed from the site by Tuesday.
That fact alone makes me a little skeptical about how extensive Facebook’s ban on extremism really is. The company told AP the Avaaz’s report isn’t an accurate representation of its efforts to combat extremism.
The company said in a statement that it has done more than any other internet company to stanch the flow of harmful material, citing its bans of “nearly 900 militarized social movements” and the removal of tens of thousands of QAnon pages, groups, and accounts. It added that it is always improving its efforts against misinformation.
On Thursday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai are slated to testify before Congress about extremism and misinformation on their platforms.
Facebook has tightened its rules against violence, hate and misinformation in the past year. In October, it banned QAnon groups across its platform. Before that, it would remove them only if they expressly supported violence. It has also banned extremist and militia movements and boogaloo groups with varying degrees of success.
The idea Facebook is somehow a leader in combating hate speech is laughable. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has historically been resistant to efforts to combat hate speech and toxic behavior on the site until towards the end of last year, well after conspiracy theories like QAnon and violent militias like the Boogaloo Boys had already grown in prominence on the site.
Even the site’s efforts at banning hate speech and misinformation have been somewhat lacking. The report found that while Facebook banned “Stop the Steal” groups, many of them are still active on the site with the “#stopthesteal” hashtag still being used prominently.
Avaaz ultimately concluded that Facebook’s lackluster efforts “helped sweep America down the path from election to insurrection.” Turns out letting anyone say whatever they want, consequences be damned, maybe isn’t a good thing.