First, it was Twitter, now it’s Facebook censoring pro-Trump groups. On Thursday, the social media platform Facebook removed a viral group called “Stop the Steal.” Charging that “Democrats are scheming to disenfranchise and nullify Republican votes,” the group signed 350,000 members in one day.
In a statement, Facebook said that “In line with the exceptional measures that we are taking during this period of heightened tension, we have removed the Group ‘Stop the Steal’ which was creating real-world events. The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from members of the group.”
Facebook’s faster-than-usual action against StS seemed unusual. This raised questions about its ability to moderate the content. Can Facebook stay consistent and transparent across all groups?
Stop the Steal
— Daily Mail US (@DailyMail) November 5, 2020
“Stop the Steal” was a movement established by a right-wing group Women for America First. The group operators include Tea Party activist Amy Kremer. Moderators Jennifer Lawrence and Dustin Stockton come from the “We Build the Wall” group. A website calls for “boots on the ground to protect the integrity of the vote.” It also asks for visitors’ email addresses and receives donations.
Election day gave the group its national exposure. A quarter of a million interactions happened during November 3 and 4. This is according to Facebook analytics software CrowdTangle. Most posts called for prayers for Donald Trump. Some posts shared inaccurate information about the elections and counting updates.
Call for Action
As the count went on, Stop the Steal began promoting events in cities all over the country. Facebook took down some of the event pages, but some managed to stay up. Groups organized local protests in areas with ongoing ballot counting.
Trump supporters visited and chanted“stop the count” at a Detroit voting center. Conservative voters also gathered at an election site in Phoenix. A Detroit protester said he went to the center after responding to a Facebook page “Stand Up Michigan.” Facebook removed the page soon after.
A “Stop The Steal, Harrisburg, PA” event happened before Facebook took down the local event page. Based on posted pictures and videos, the protest consisted of a small crowd. Among the participants were women and children peacefully gathered at the State Capitol. They were seen listening to speeches and holding “Stop the Steal” signs.
Facebook’s takedown of Stop the Steal is part of its proactive policy. A spokesman said that their action was “in line with the exceptional measures that we are taking during this period of heightened tension. The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group.”
Soon as Facebook removed the Stop the Steal pages, other similar pages appeared. Many switched to private to avoid detection. Others asked supporters to use right-wing platforms such as Parler or MeWe.
Facebook’s swift takedown of Stop the Steal is different from its earlier methods. It took months before the platform made moves to limit access to the “boogaloo” movement and QAnon. It took time before Facebook shut down both groups’ pages. In both cases, the company feared they were inciting violence and spreading misinformation.
The inconsistency around Facebook’s content moderation policies drew quick criticism. in the field and digital rights advocates. While Stop the Steal has its share of extremist members, most are ordinary people. Stockton said that there are plenty of posts with “common political hyperbole.” But, he didn’t see any calls for violent action. By shutting down these groups, Facebook might create more problems. Stockton said Facebook can “marginalize and radicalize already strained people in a way that causes real damage.”
Kremer agrees. She said, “It is absolutely beyond the pale that Facebook would selectively choose to shut down our group.” She said that Facebook is “selectively enforcing their new rules to silence conservatives.”
Outsiders Weigh In
Evelyn Douek, Harvard lecturer on online speech regulation, says social media should be more transparent. She said that “It really matters that platforms should be as clear in advance about their policies and consistent in their application. That helps fend off charges that any decisions are politically motivated or biased, and gives us a lever to pull for accountability that isn’t purely about who can get the most public attention or generate public outrage.”
Evan Green, deputy director of the organization Fight for the Future, agreed. She said Facebook may be setting “an extremely dangerous precedent”. Green tweeted: “Are people not allowed to form a group on Facebook to discuss if they truly believe their government is engaged in electoral misconduct? How does this play out globally?”
Facebook Might Be Overeager
Why Facebook seemed overeager to shut down a conservative group is the question. Every social media group has its shares of hotheads and reactionaries. But, that doesn’t mean all members are hotheads as well. As seen on documented Stop the Steal events, assemblies were generally peaceful. Is Facebook censoring pro-Trump groups because they’re trying to appease the other side?
Watch this as The Sun reports on Stop the steal’ & ‘count the vote’ demos across the US on November 6:
Do you agree with Facebook censoring pro-Trump groups like Stop the Steal? Tell us what you think and share your experiences in the comments section below.