A variety of different private Facebook groups -- including pro-Trump groups and some that oppose stay-at-home orders, mask guidelines, or vaccines -- are being used to promote and encourage users to flout COVID-19 preventative measures and go “maskless shopping.”
With over 410,000 Americans dying from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, misinformation from right-wing media outlets and social media has had devastating real-world consequences, even contributing to a partisan difference in behaviors such as social distancing and mask use.
Facebook has implemented policies to stop the spread of COVID-19 misinformation, but the platform has struggled to properly enforce them, particularly within private Facebook groups. Content in private groups can be more difficult for Facebook to moderate and for researchers and journalists trying to hold Facebook accountable to track.
Media Matters found people used these private groups, including groups supporting former President Donald Trump and groups against COVID-19 preventative measures, to encourage other users to flout mask guidelines by going “maskless shopping.” These posts promoted events dedicated to maskless shopping with others, claiming that these events are for “changing minds” about the “false pandemic” and attempting to “pick up more likeminded people at every event.” Posts also encouraged people to go maskless shopping during their day-to-day lives, or praised instances of shoppers not wearing masks. Notably, many of these posts particularly encouraged specific actions in California, New Jersey, and Colorado -- all states which have public health policies mandating the use of masks.
Posts promoting maskless shopping events
Posts encouraging maskless shopping
Posts praising maskless shoppers