Facebook Hosted A Surge Of Fake News Prior To Capitol Riot

Facebook groups sent 650k posts attacking the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s victory between Election Day and the riotous disorder in the US Capitol in January 2020. Investigative journalists at ProPublica have found that the social media platform hosted an average of more than 10,000 posts daily over the crucial period.

Facebook's efforts to police such content, the investigation found, were ineffective and started too late to  stop the surge of misinformation to be found, some of it explicitly calling for violent confrontation with government officials, in advance of  the storming of the Capitol and clashes with police that left five people dead.

One post showed a US Civil War-era picture of a gallows with more than two dozen nooses and hooded figures waiting to be hanged. Other posts called for arrests and executions of specific public figures, both Democrats and Republicans, depicted as betraying the nation by denying Trump a second term.

Facebook's leadership have attempted to minimise its role in events at the Capitol and has resisted calls, including from its own Oversight Board, for a comprehensive internal investigation. The company has yet to disclose all of the information requested by the congressional committee investigating the riots and Facebook said it is continuing to negotiate with the committee.

To determine the extent of posts attacking Biden’s victory, ProPublica obtained a unique dataset of 100,000 groups and their posts, along with metadata and images, compiled by CounterAction, a firm that studies online disinformation.  Working with the Washington Post, ProPublica used machine learning to narrow that list to 27,000 public groups that showed clear markers of focusing on U.S. politics.

Out of the more than 18 million posts in those groups between Election Day and Jan. 6, the analysis searched for words and phrases to identify attacks on the election’s integrity. They found more than 650k posts attacking the election, and the 10,000-per-day average, is conservative as the analysis only examined posts in a portion of all public groups and did not include comments, posts in private groups or posts on individuals’ profiles. 

Only Facebook has access to all the data to calculate the true total, although  Facebook has noted that even more extreme content was posted on other social media platforms, including detailed planning on bringing guns or building gallows that day. 

Facebook employees have  made public the claim that  the company  undermines democratic norms and restraints in America and elsewhere.

After federal authorities were criticised in 2021 for failing to act on warning signs on social media before the 6 January attack, US Department of Homeland Security established a new domestic terrorism branch in its intelligence office, which has been focused on expanded tracking of online threats.

ProPublica:    DefenseOne:    The Hill:    Flipboard:     beSpacific:   Tech Transparency:   The Atlantic:    Guardian

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