BuzzFeed has posted the whole internal Facebook documents detailing the results of the company’s investigation into its role in the Jan.6 riots on Capitol Hill, during and after which at least five people died.
The report, which was first reported in detail by BuzzFeed last week, found that Facebook had played a key role in the explosive growth of the ‘Stop the Steal’ movement, a group of diehard Donald Trump supporters who rallied around the former president’s conspiracy theories on his defeated in the 2020 election. Members of the movement, alongside overlapping groups such as QAnon, stormed the Capitol in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying the vote.
The authors felt that Facebook had failed to recognize that groups such as Stop the Steal and the Patriot Party were part of a “harmful antagonist movement” and therefore only moderate associated groups and pages in a “piecemeal” fashion. Facebook also conceded that the focus on bogus and “inauthentic” activity had blinded it to the harm being done on the site by people under their real identities. The lack of a coordinated site-wide response came despite months of warnings from Facebook staff that groups on the site were becoming vehicles of extremism.
According to BuzzFeed, the report’s authors uploaded it to internal Facebook message boards last month, where it was widely circulated and read by staff. But after the BuzzFeed report last week, Facebook pulled it out of circulation with the official explanation that the authors “never intended to release it as a final document to the whole. company ”and had only“ inadvertently ”made it available to employees outside of a workgroup on the publish.
So BuzzFeed posted the entire report Monday. He describes the confusion within the company over whether the Stop the Steal Circus “was a coordinated effort to delegitimize the election, or whether it was protected by users who were afraid and confused and who deserved our attention. empathy”. The first Stop the Steal group created on election night contained “high levels of hatred, violence and incitement (NIV) in the comments,” the authors wrote that “it wasn’t until later that it became clear how a focal point would be the slogan, and that they would serve as a rallying point around which a violent electoral delegitimization movement could merge. By the time Facebook started removing that first group on November 5, BuzzFeed wrote, it had swelled to 300,000 members and spawned countless imitators.
The report noted evidence that white supremacists, hate groups and militias were involved in coordinating the Stop the Steal effort both on and outside of Facebook. He also revealed that a relatively small number of people were clearly trying to supercharge the movement by flooding the site with invitations to related groups, a tactic known as growth hacking: “30% of invitations came from just 0.3% of guests,” according to the report, and many of those “super-guests” were administrators from other related groups, clearly indicating coordination between them.
“We weren’t able to act on simple objects such as messages and comments, as they tended not to violate individually, even though they were surrounded by hatred, violence and misinformation,” adds the report. “After the Capitol uprising and a wave of Storm the Capitol events across the country, we realized that the individual delegitimization groups, pages and slogans made a cohesive movement.
Facebook put limits on the number of invitations individual users could send, but the report notes that this was clearly ineffective and that groups were “still able to grow significantly.” Additionally, there were high levels of interaction between the users who engaged the most with Stop the Steal content, which added to the evidence. These amplifiers have broadcast far more hate speech and threats of violence than even the rest of the Stop the Steal movement, pushing it to extremes.
The Facebook report also names-abandon specific far-right activists that Facebook has failed to contain, as Ali Alexander, one of the main organizers of the rally before the failed insurgency which has a long history of working with extremists such as the neo-fascist Proud Boys. He also mentioned the Kremer sisters, who run the event’s official host, Women for America First, and one of the names of whom was on rally permits.
“The terms Stop the Steal and Patriot Party have been amplified both on and off the platform,” the report says. “Ali Alexander and the Kremer sisters repeated slogans at rallies and broadcast them through supergroups like Women4Trump and Latinos for Trump. The Kremer sisters were directors of both Women4Trump and the original Stop the Steal Group. After January 6, Amy Kremer confirmed on the platform that she was the organizer of the Stop the Steal rally that precipitated the Capitol uprising.
“Ali Alexander has worked on and off the platform, using media appearances and celebrity backing,” he continued. “We have also observed him formally organizing with others to spread the term, including with other users who had ties to militias. He was able to evade detection and enforcement by carefully selecting words and relying on stories that were disappearing. “
The authors wrote in their main conclusions that Facebook “eIf we only focus on individual violations, we have missed the evil in the larger network, “messy moderation tools made it difficult to count how many strikes each group was racking up, and the company has” little policy regarding the authentic coordinated damage ”.
Joan Donovan, tHarvard University’s Shorenstein Center Research Director on Media, Politics and Public Policy, told BuzzFeed that Facebook seemed to have been caught off guard as it was more focused on the kind of hoaxes, spam, and meddling it messed up in the 2016 election.
“In 2016, you must have created a lot of bogus engagements and stories because the networks weren’t mature enough,” Donovan said. “It wasn’t until after four years of MAGA, the Trump trailer, and the anti-vaxxers who encountered the militias during the pandemic that you start to see these networks become nimble, scalable and adaptable in the present moment.”
“… There is something about the way Facebook organizes groups that lead to massive public events,” Donovan added. “And when they are organized on the basis of disinformation, hatred, incitement and harassment, we get very violent results.”
Read the full report on BuzzFeed here.