Facebook has admitted it failed to take action against posts that fueled the Capitol riot, despite boss Mark Zuckerberg testifying before Congress last week that the platform was ‘inhospitable to those who might do harm’.
The social media giant said hindsight has shown how ‘election delegitimizing movements… grew, spread conspiracy, and helped incite the Capitol insurrection’ using its platform and that its focus on rooting out fake accounts and ‘inauthentic behavior’ drew attention away from taking action against such groups.
The damning confession came in a leaked report created by an internal task force entitled ‘Stop the Steal and Patriot Party: The Growth and Mitigation of an Adversarial Harmful Movement,’ which was obtained by Buzzfeed.
The report focused on two pro-Trump movements – Stop the Steal and the Patriot Party – that played a crucial role in spreading false claims of election fraud and organizing the violent insurrection on January 6.
Facebook’s admission of responsibility to its employees came less than a week after Mark Zuckerberg was hauled before Congress to testify about the platform’s role in the riot.
The founder and CEO’s comments that day stood in stark contrast to the findings of the report.
Speaking to lawmakers, he denied the platform played some role in the riot, testifying that he believed the blame rested on Donald Trump and those who invaded the seat of American democracy that day.
Facebook has admitted it failed to take action against posts that fueled the Capitol riot, after Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress that the platform was ‘inhospitable to those who might do harm’
In the report, Facebook admitted it had struggled to distinguish between viable threats to overthrow the election and free speech in the run-up to the MAGA mob riot.
‘Hindsight is 20/20, at the time, it was very difficult to know whether what we were seeing was a coordinated effort to delegitimize the election, or whether it was free expression by users who were afraid and confused and deserved our empathy,’ it reads.
‘But hindsight being 20/20 makes it all the more important to look back to learn what we can about the growth of the election delegitimizing movements that grew, spread conspiracy, and helped incite the Capitol insurrection.’
Perhaps the most damning confession is that the company’s own attempts to shut down the Stop the Steal group thwarted its ability to crack down on the movement’s spread of disinformation.
Facebook removed the original Stop the Steal group from its platform on November 5 saying it had been ‘flagged for escalation because it contained high levels of hate and violence and incitement (VNI) in the comments.’
By this point, the group had gained more than 300,000 members in the little over 24 hours since its creation and more than one million people were waiting to join.
The report admitted that the removal of the group only led to multiple other offshoot and similar groups springing up in its replacement, with the movement growing through the use of ‘growth hacking.’
Growth hacking is a digital marketing tactic used to grow a product and its popularity very quickly.
The social media giant said hindsight has shown how ‘election delegitimizing movements… grew, spread conspiracy, and helped incite the Capitol insurrection’ using its platform. Pictured the Capitol riot
The damning confession came in a leaked internal report titled ‘Stop the Steal and Patriot Party: The Growth and Mitigation of an Adversarial Harmful Movement’
The company admitted in the report that it was unprepared to deal with ‘coordinated authentic harm’ on its site, calling it a ‘new territory’
THE REMOVAL AND RETURN OF PARLER
After Donald Trump was banished from the mainstream apps for spreading false claims, millions of users flocked to Parler.
But Parler went offline in January as it was removed from Apple and Google app stores and taken off a web-hosting platform by Amazon as the companies accused the platform of failing to crack down on extremist content and calls for violence in the lead-up to the January 6 riot.
In late January, a judge ruled against Parler’s request to force Amazon to restore the company to its web hosting services.
A month later, Parler re-launched its services online through host SkySilk as it said its new platform was built on ‘sustainable, independent technology.’
New community guidelines on Parler state that the platform is ‘viewpoint neutral’ and will not allow for promotion of crime or unlawful acts.
The company’s board of directors also unceremoniously fired its cofounder and CEO Matze in January with Mark Meckler, an attorney, political activist, and founder of the Tea Party Patriots, now serving as interim CEO.
Matze, 27, is now suing Parler for $3million claiming punitive and compensatory damages claiming his 40 percent stake in the company was stolen from him when he was ousted and accusing its leadership of bullying him.
Earlier this month, Parler announced it is coming back to Apple’s app store after making changes to its ‘content moderation practices’.
While the report said ‘growth hacking may not always be bad’ and does involve ‘legitimate techniques’, it warned that ‘when the growth is mixed with the signals of harm we described above, this rapid growth indicates the spread of harm, and may indicate coordinated harm.’
In the case of Stop the Steal, the offshoot groups grew rapidly through the use of ‘super-inviter’ accounts, the report said.
For example, the largest Stop the Steal groups had 137 super-inviters, who had invited two-thirds (67 percent) of members to the group, each bringing in over 500 more people per group.
Facebook said these super-inviters used various strategies including using private groups and chats to coordinate their activity and lied about their locations, Buzzfeed reported.
The report admitted that the taking down of the original main group and the creation of several offshoot groups made it more difficult to root out the riot plans.
The company was forced to take a ‘piecemeal’ approach to tackling the issue.
‘Because we were looking at each entity individually, rather than as a cohesive movement, we were only able to take down individual Groups and Pages once they exceeded a violation threshold,’ the report read.
‘After the Capitol Insurrection and a wave of Storm the Capitol events across the country, we realized that the individual delegitimizing Groups, Pages and slogans did constitute a cohesive movement.’
The company admitted in the report that it was unprepared to deal with ‘coordinated authentic harm’ on its site, calling it a ‘new territory’ in which ‘few policies or knowledge existed’ prior to the insurrection.
It acknowledged that it only learned in the aftermath that the Stop the Steal and Patriot Party groups were part of a movement that ‘normalized delegitimization and hate in a way that resulted in offline harm and harm to the norms underpinning democracy.’
The lack of preparation comes despite employees being made aware of the original Stop the Steal group back on November 3, the report revealed.
The report concluded that Facebook needs to ‘do better next time’ by improving its systems and addressing gaps in current policies.
‘We learned a lot from these cases,’ the report said.
‘We’re building tools and protocols and having policy discussions to help us do better next time.’
It added: ‘What do we do when a movement is authentic, coordinated through grassroots or authentic means, but is inherently harmful and violates the spirit of our policy?
‘What do we do when that authentic movement espouses hate or delegitimizes free elections?’
Perhaps the most damning confession is that the company’s own attempts to shut down the Stop the Steal group thwarted its ability to crack down on the movement’s spread of disinformation as it cut off the original group only for offshoot groups to spring up
Trump at the Stop the Steal rally moments before rioters stormed the US Capitol January 6
DailyMail.com has reached out to Facebook for comment on the report’s findings.
The company told Buzzfeed in a statement that while it ‘didn’t catch everything’ on the platform, the report’s findings are not ‘definitive.’
‘As we’ve said previously, we still saw problematic content on our platform during this period and we know that we didn’t catch everything,’ it said.
‘This is not a definitive report. It’s a product of one of many teams who are continuing to study what happened so we can continue improving our content moderation.’
The internal stance on the company’s role in the Capitol riot appears vastly different to its public-facing approach, with Facebook repeatedly seeking to downplay its responsibility.
In March, Zuckerberg told the House of Representatives the company had ‘done its part’ in trying to prevent the Capitol riot.
‘We did our part to secure the integrity of the election, and then on January 6, President Trump gave a speech rejecting the results and calling on people to fight,’ Zuckerberg testified.
‘The attack on the Capitol was an outrage, and I want to express my sympathy to all of the members, staff, and Capitol workers who had to live through this disgraceful moment in our history.
‘And I want to express my gratitude to the Capitol Police, who were on the front lines in defense of our democracy.’
Facebook’s admission of responsibility to its employees came less than a week after Mark Zuckerberg was hauled before Congress to testify about the platform’s role in the riot (above) The founder and CEO denied to Congress that the platform played some role in the riot
He said the platform had been working with law enforcement ‘to identify and address threats’ in the run-up to the Capitol riot and, in the aftermath, removed posts and accounts that incited violence.
‘We didn’t catch everything, but we made our services inhospitable to those who might do harm,’ he said.
‘And when we feared that he would incite further violence, we suspended the former president’s accounts.’
The Facebook boss instead blamed Trump and the Capitol rioters: ‘I believe that the former president should be responsible for his words and that the people who broke the law should be responsible for their actions.’
He also defended his platform and big tech saying ‘polarization was rising in America long before social networks were even invented, and it’s fallen or stable in many other countries where social networks are popular.’
The company has also sought to push the blame onto new right-wing platforms such as Parler that are newer and less regulated than the major social platform players.
In the report, Facebook admitted it had struggled to distinguish between viable threats to overthrow the election and free speech in the run-up to the MAGA mob riot
When Trump was banished from the mainstream platforms for spreading false election fraud claims, millions of users flocked to Parler.
The app then went offline as it was removed from Apple and Google app stores and taken off a web-hosting platform by Amazon as the companies accused it of failing to crack down on extremist content and calls for violence in the lead-up to the January 6 riot.
The company made a comeback a month later through host SkySilk and, in April, said it was coming back to Apple’s app store after making changes to its ‘content moderation practices’.
Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg claimed in January that the Capitol riot was ‘largely’ organized on other platforms – not on Facebook.
‘I think these events were largely organized on platforms that don’t have our abilities to stop hate, don’t have our standards and don’t have our transparency,’ she said.
Sandberg said the company had removed the likes of QAnon, Proud Boys, Stop the Steal, ‘anything that was talking about possible violence last week’.
Facebook denied that the report flies in the face of Zuckerberg’s and Sandberg’s public comments in a statement to Buzzfeed, saying both had admitted the company failed to stop all posts.