A recent study has shown that despite Facebook’s claims that it’s cracking down on right-wing extremist groups, the company accepted ad buys from such groups as recently as October.
According to Buzzfeed News, a report from the Tech Transparency Project (TTP) has shown that multiple Facebook pages and groups associated with far-right extremist groups are still thriving on the site. The TTP found that despite the ban, there are still at least 53 militia and far-right pages on the site. These militia groups have also run recruitment ads on the site, which Facebook takes a percentage of.
The TTP also found that the American Patriot Council, a far-right organization that advocated for Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to face criminal prosecution because her stay-at-home orders prevented them from sitting in a Denny’s, ran recruitment ads earlier in October. The ads encouraged people to attend a rally on Oct. 24 in Michigan and New York.
From Buzzfeed News:
“We The People gather across America in a show of solidarity and demand emancipation from the bondage of tyranny,” read the ad, which cost less than $100 and had the potential to reach between 500,000 and 1 million people according to Facebook’s own metrics. “(Lawful carry & Militia strongly encouraged).”
Facebook’s announced in August that it was banning right-wing militant, anarchist, and QAnon groups from its platform. But TTP found 45 pages and eight groups associated with right-wing extremist organizations two months later. Researchers at TTP also found that Facebook had accepted a handful of ads over the last two years that were used by extremists to bolster their ranks and summon people to armed rallies.
“Facebook has been directly profiting from this kind of paid messaging on its platform,” the report said. “The disturbing findings show that Facebook is routinely behind the curve in cracking down on domestic extremists on its platform.”
According to TTP, 13 of the pages and groups it found have “militia” in their name, while six pages and one group were created after the company’s August ban of “militarized social movements.”
Since we’re on the topic of Michigan, the report also comes on the heels of a thwarted attempt by a group of right-wing extremists to kidnap Whitmer. Much of the planning of that attempt was allegedly done on Facebook. After the arrest the company told Bloomberg it informed the FBI of the plot six months ago.
Quick question: if they knew six months ago that right-wing extremists were using their platform to plot an act of domestic terrorism, why did they wait until August to announce they were going to crackdown on such groups? The more information they reveal to try and look like “the good guys,” the worse the optics around it actually become.
The report also found that despite being banned by the platform in 2018, the Proud Boys, a group of “not-white supremacist” thugs, had been using Facebook’s fundraising tools to raise money for a rally in Portland last month. The company didn’t put a stop to these efforts until the Huffington Post called them out on it. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact Facebook gets a cut of any money raised using its platform, though.
Facebook is trying to say all the right things in the press, but if you pay attention for just three seconds you’ll quickly realize that’s all it is: talk.
There isn’t much clarity on how extensive the bans are, what criteria they’re using to ban these platforms, and how they’re ensuring Facebook isn’t accelerating the radicalization process. The TTP found that whenever a Facebook user would express interest in far-right groups and militias, the site’s algorithm would recommend similar groups.
It shouldn’t be this hard to take down extremist groups on the site. Sure, the report states that many times a group will be taken down only to create a new group under a different name but, Facebook is a multi-billion dollar company. They can afford to create a team dedicated solely to ensuring extremist groups have zero presence on the site.
This isn’t just a matter of people being assholes online; this shit gets people hurt at best, killed at worst.
These groups see violence as a legitimate response to those whose politics don’t fit their view of America, and one of the key takeaways listed in the TTP report was that “members of ‘patriot’ and pro-Trump Facebook pages have posted explicit threats to kill public officials and racial justice protesters.”
From the Tech Transparency Project:
Take the group called “Pro-Police, Pro-Military, Pro-Trump,” which has about 11,200 members. One member suggested on Oct. 5 that Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat who’s frequently targeted by racist and misogynist rhetoric, should be “sent to Guantanamo Bay,” a comment that sparked replies like “Just shoot the bitch” and “she needs a drone strike.”
Despite Facebook’s statement that it removes content that poses a “credible threat of imminent harm to people or public safety,” the threats to Rep. Omar remained active as of October 13.
A Facebook group called “Trump’s Army,” which has roughly 99,900 members, features violent talk about people demonstrating over the police killing of Breonna Taylor. One member wrote, “All Trump supporters should shoot them and kill them,” prompting a reply, “working on it.”
Please, tell me again about how these folks are driven by “economic uncertainty.”
Given how ineffective the ban has been, it’s unclear what, if any, effect it will have on the ability for militias and far right extremist groups to organize. If a plot to commit domestic terrorism and the deaths of two of protesters in Kenosha doesn’t spur Facebook to take more aggressive action against these groups, I honestly don’t know if anything will.