Facebook has taken down a group that had amassed more than 300,000 members and was sharing misinformation and organizing around false allegations of impropriety during the 2020 elections.
The group, called "Stop the Steal 2020," was organizing protests targeting the election officials currently counting ballots cast in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Phoenix and Las Vegas.
"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," said a Facebook spokesperson in a statement emailed to TechCrunch. "The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group."
Facebook's action was first noticed by Ryan Mac of BuzzFeed, who reported the move in a tweet.
Facebook statement: “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...
— Ryan Mac 🙃 (@RMac18) November 5, 2020
Protestors advocating for votes to be counted and for vote counting to cease are cropping up across the country as Republican Party organizers and campaign officials try to derail the count of mail-in ballots and absentee votes cast in the 2020 race and Democratic supporters organize counter-protests.
Social media election takedowns
While the organizers may be tapping supporters of President Trump across the country, their messaging is different depending on the state.
In Phoenix, protestors are calling for all votes to be counted, as presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden hangs on to a slim lead in Arizona.
Meanwhile, the messaging is the opposite in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Nevada, where President Donald Trump is trying to preserve the slim margins that have him ahead or reverse the counts that had put him behind in the polls. In Detroit, for instance, Trump supporters held up signs that said "stop the steal" and "stop the cheat" according to news reports.
Conservative advocates across the Twittersphere have had their tweets amended by the company to indicate that they were sharing election misinformation.
Facebook has also added “labels” to election posts that break the rules, though they are designed to mostly point users to contextual, factual information rather than to offer explicit warnings about false claims.
In fact, as a direct response to Trump’s premature claims of victory, Facebook also rolled out an eye-catching set of messages across Facebook and Instagram reminding users that votes were still being counted.
Once President Trump began making premature claims of victory, we started running notifications on Facebook and Instagram that votes are still being counted and a winner is not projected. We're also automatically applying labels to both candidates’ posts with this information. pic.twitter.com/tuGGLJkwcy
— Facebook Newsroom (@fbnewsroom) November 4, 2020
Facebook has also instituted changes to its policies about groups that organize real-world events in the wake of 2016's election disinformation campaign carried out by Russian agents and the recent shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin in which two men were killed after a local self-declared militia group organized a response to protests against the shooting of Kenosha resident, Jacob Blake.