Facebook announced on Monday that “events that defy government’s guidance on social distancing aren’t allowed on” the social media platform, specifically noting that it had removed pages created with the Facebook Events feature that were promoting protests against stay-at-home orders in California, New Jersey, and Nebraska. However, many Facebook events -- as well as some pages and groups hosting events or featuring posts promoting events -- in these states are still live on Facebook.
On April 20, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that content suggesting social distancing is ineffective in fighting COVID-19 is classified as “harmful misinformation” and will be taken down, including content promoting events that defy social distancing orders. Later that day, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone confirmed to CNN that the platform would be removing posts and event pages about anti-stay-at-home protests being organized in California, New Jersey, and Nebraska because those events would violate social distancing orders in those states. (All three states ban group gatherings as part of their stay-at-home orders.)
Facebook’s move came after consulting with officials in these states regarding activities that were not permitted under the states’ social distancing orders, however, officials in both New Jersey and Nebraska say they did not instruct Facebook to remove the pages. In a statement provided to Politico, a Facebook spokesman explained: “We reached out to state officials to understand the scope of their orders, not about removing specific protests on Facebook. ... We remove the posts when gatherings do not follow the health parameters established by the government and are therefore unlawful.”
Facebook’s statements come amid the creation of “more than 100 state-specific Facebook groups” in the last two weeks to protest stay-at-home orders across the country. These groups and affiliated Facebook pages have organized at least 49 different events across the country, gathering at state capitols and defying social distancing guidelines.
Media Matters has been tracking Facebook pages, groups, and events promoting protests against stay-at-home orders and has found that there are still at least 25 violative Facebook events, pages, or groups hosting events and posts promoting events that have not been removed by Facebook for the following states: California (15), New Jersey (8), and Nebraska (2).
There are at least nine Facebook events for protesting stay-at-home orders in California still live on Facebook, including:
- ReOpen CA
- Asserting our rights!
- Re-Open Riverside County
- Open Coachella Valley
There are at least six Facebook groups or pages hosting events or featuring posts promoting events in California, including:
- SC For Freedom Group
- I Need To Go Back To Work
There are at least three Facebook events for protesting stay-at-home orders in New Jersey still live on Facebook, including:
- April 28th ReopenNJ
- Rally Round The Capital
There are at least five Facebook groups or pages hosting events or featuring posts promoting events in New Jersey, including:
- Reopen NJ
There are at least two Facebook groups or pages hosting events or featuring posts promoting events in Nebraska, including:
Facebook has also requested additional info from Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York about their stay-at-home orders and is assessing whether events being promoted in these states defy social distancing guidelines. There are at least 13 Facebook groups for these states promoting such protests, including four groups with a combined 210,000 members that were created by pro-gun activists Chris, Ben, Aaron and Matthew Dorr.