Yesterday Facebook banned a large Trump-supporting group called “Stop the Steal” for using the group to organize protests against the presidential vote count. Many group members called for violence, while others falsely claimed that the Democrats were “stealing” the election from Republicans.
The “Stop the Steal” group had acquired more than 350,000 members before Facebook had taken it down; it was one of the many smaller groups that surfaced as voting counting extended for days in several battleground states. Inside the group, organizers tried to ensure that they would get around Facebook’s moderators and “trolls” who might report or mock them.
“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,” Facebook said in a statement. “The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group.”
Facebook said it would continue to watch for groups that violate its rules and will take action if it does.
Since Thursday, a copycat “Stop the Steal” group surfaced with nearly 12,000 members, and several others were easily searchable on Facebook.
In the “Stop the Steal” group, members posted baseless claims of voter fraud and organized protests. Although calls for violence were not immediately apparent, the Center for Countering Digital Hate shared a screenshot of a post that read, “Neither side is going to concede. Time to clean the guns, time to hit the streets.”
In the new copycat group, administrators were careful with warning members that they would be removing anything that calls for violence. They also had plans to move the group to other platforms.
The CEO of the Center of Countering Digital Hate, Imran Ahmed, pressured Facebook to remove the group. He said while it’s true that all this seems like a game of whack-a-mole, the moles are slowly learning their lesson.
Ahmed said, “By taking out the largest one, it sent a message to others.” He said, “There is a systemic issue with Facebook groups being exploited by people spreading misinformation, hate and inciting violence.” He added, “It’s a problem they have known about for a long time, and they continue to fail to take proper action. It’s generally only when a lot of attention is placed on something that they act.”
By Thursday afternoon, Facebook had banned the #stopthesteal hashtag.
According to analysis from media intelligence firm Zignal Labs, the #stopthesteal hashtag and similar others were mentioned nearly 120,000 times on websites and social media platforms throughout the day since Tuesday.