Facebook on Thursday banned an online group called “Stop the Steal” that United States President Donald Trump’s supporters were using to organise protests against the counting of votes, AP reported. Some of the members of the group had called for violence, while many claimed that Democrats were “stealing” the election from Republicans.
The group had more than 3.5 lakh members before Facebook banned it. However, several smaller groups have appeared even as the counting of votes continues in the US.
“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.”
The “Stop the Steal” members posted claims of voter fraud. Although calls for violence were not largely seen, the Center for Countering Digital Hate shared a screenshot of one such post that said: “Neither side is going to concede. Time to clean the guns, time to hit the streets.”
“There is a systemic issue with Facebook groups being exploited by people spreading misinformation, hate and inciting violence,” the Center for Countering Digital Hate Chief Executive Officer Imran Ahmed said “It’s a problem they [Facebook] 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.”
Facebook has also banned the hashtag #stopthesteal. This hashtag and other similar ones were used about 1.2 lakh times on websites and social media platforms on Tuesday, the news agency reported, quoting an analysis from media intelligence firm Zignal Labs.
The banned group’s claim of voter fraud is in line with Trump’s repeated statements that Democrats were trying to “steal” the election from him. However, the president has failed to provide any proof for his claims. “If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” Trump said at the White House on Friday. “If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.”
Apart from banning the group and the related hashtag, Facebook has taken other measures such as demoting election-related misinformation posts and limiting the distribution of poll-related live streams, Axios reported.
“As vote counting continues, we are seeing more reports of inaccurate claims about the election,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “While many of these claims have low engagement on our platform, we are taking additional temporary steps, which we’ve previously discussed, to keep this content from reaching more people.”
Further, Facebook’s internal data revealed that there was a 45% since October 31 in “violence and incitement trends”, BuzzFeed News reported. “The risky hashtags seem conspiracy-theory-esque,” a Facebook employee wrote on the company’s internal message board.
Facebook had earlier taken a seemingly softer approach to misinformation. The company had on Monday said it will run a notification at the top of the app as well as on Instagram and apply labels to the posts of the candidates taking people to the Voting Information Center after the polls end. Twitter, on the other hand, was hiding election-related misinformation content and limiting its ability to be shared.
With the winner of the presidency yet to be declared, attention has now shifted to a handful of states that continue to remain too close to call. Democrat Joe Biden is pushing closer to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to carry the White House, securing victories in the battlegrounds of Wisconsin and Michigan and narrowing Trump’s path. Biden has also taken a narrow lead in the crucial state of Georgia, where Trump was initially leading.