Facebook said Thursday it toppled a rapidly growing group in which some supporters of US President Donald Trump posted violent rhetoric and unsubstantiated claims that Democrats were stealing the elections.
On Thursday afternoon, the Stop the Steal group calling for “boots on the ground to protect the integrity of the voting” added 1,000 new members every 10 seconds and grew to 365,000 members in a single day.
“The group was organized around the delegitimization of the electoral process and we saw worrying calls from some members of the group about violence,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement.
She said the move is in line with the “extraordinary measures” Facebook has taken during “this period of heightened tension”.
The “Stop the Steal” group had prepared for Facebook to take action and directed new members to an email login page “in case social media censored this group”.
Another group with the same name but different administrators told its members that no threats were allowed and that they should take precautionary measures, such as: B. Using pictures with words instead of text. This group, which had more than 2,000 members, also said it would privatize in a few days.
Facebook public groups can be seen, searched, and connected by anyone on Facebook, while only members can see posts in private groups.
Facebook has billed groups as community forums for common interests, but surveillance organizations and social media researchers have argued that they can be breeding grounds for bipartisan misinformation.
“Facebook enabled and expanded the infrastructure that is now being used to attack our democratic process,” Arisha Hatch, executive director of the racial justice group Color Of Change, told Reuters.
Facebook, which usually recommends groups to users that they want to join based on their activities on the site, suspended those recommendations for political groups and new election-related groups last week.
The now removed Stop the Steal group was led by the Trump Women for America First action group. The non-profit organization organized protests against COVID-19 restrictions and supported Trump in his impeachment hearing.
On Twitter, one of the administrators of the Facebook group, Amy Kremer, said, “The left is trying to steal an election and social media is complicit,” she said. “That’s rude!”
Unsubstantiated and debunked claims about the integrity of the U.S. elections have been made on social media by Trump and high profile Republican accounts, and the hashtag #StopTheSteal has gained momentum.
In what becomes known as the #Sharpiegate, social media posts suggest that election officials in Maricopa County provided voters with Sharpie pens that disrupted the recording of ballot papers, especially for Trump.
Arizona election officials say voting with a Sharpie would not affect the votes recorded by tabulation machines, and if there was a problem there would be a process that would prevent the ballots from being canceled.
Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather outside the Maricopa County’s Tabulation and Voting Center (MCTEC) to protest the early results of the 2020 presidential election in Phoenix, Arizona, Nov. 4 [Edgard Garrido/Reuters]A group of pro-Trump protesters, some of whom were armed and allegedly sang “Stop the Steal,” forced a location in Arizona where votes were counted to close overnight for security reasons.
Arizona has legal open-carry laws that allow residents to carry guns in public places. Advocacy group Amnesty International said in a morning briefing about the elections that such laws and “armed groups pose a risk to public safety and the human rights of others and must be explicitly and strongly denounced by all government officials”.
Amnesty also called for “an immediate ban on firearms on and near polling stations and polling stations to ensure the safety of workers there”.
Facebook rules prohibit declarations of intent or advocating violence based on voting, voter registration, or the outcome of an election.