How the Capitol rioters' 'Stop the Steal' movement outsmarted Facebook

How the Capitol rioters' 'Stop the Steal' movement outsmarted Facebook
US Capitol Grounds East Plaza off First Street and East Capitol Street, Washington DC on Wednesday afternoon, 6 January 2021 by Elvert Barnes Photography

The Trump-led "Stop the Steal" movement may have seemed like a chaotic event of disorderly confusion when the mob of angry Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, but further research actually details how the movement managed to outsmart the social media geniuses at Facebook.

Details about Facebook's internal "Stop the Steal" report make it clear that the social media network's efforts to combat the right-wing movement were synonymous with being a day late and a dollar short. According to NPR, the movement was far more coordinated than the network realized.

The publication highlights where Facebook missed the mark. By focusing on the removal of groups while ignoring extremist behavior, right-wing extremists and potential Capitol rioters managed to slip through the craps and move forward with their agenda. "The report concluded that there was a broader failure in Facebook's approach. It focused on removing individual groups, rather than quickly seeing the systemic way Facebook's growth-optimized mechanics enabled misinformation to emerge and flourish.

"Its [Facebook's] policies were built to root out 'inauthentic behavior' — such as networks of fake accounts and Russian trolls impersonating Americans — but had little scope to confront 'coordinated authentic harm' — that is, real people, using their real names, undermining confidence in American democracy," NPR reports.

A former Facebook employee has also noted where the social media network dropped the ball. "The atrophy occurs when people know how to circumvent our policies and we're too reactive to stay ahead," the employee lamented. "There were dozens of Stop the Steal groups active up until yesterday, and I doubt they minced words about their intentions."

However, Facebook has rejected the claims suggesting it should be held accountable for the U.S. Capitol insurrection. In fact, on Friday, October 22, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone released a statement pushing back against the assertion.

"The responsibility for the violence that occurred on January 6 lies with those who attacked our Capitol and those who encouraged them. We took steps to limit content that sought to delegitimize the election, including labeling candidates' posts with the latest vote count after Mr. Trump prematurely declared victory, pausing new political advertising, and removing the original #StopTheSteal Group in November," he said.

Stone added, "After the violence at the Capitol erupted and as we saw continued attempts to organize events to dispute the outcome of the presidential election, we removed content with the phrase "stop the steal" under our Coordinating Harm policy and suspended Trump from our platforms."

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