In advance of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, Facebook announced plans on Monday to remove any “content containing the phrase ‘stop the steal,’” adding that “it may take some time to scale up our enforcement of this new step.” But as with many Facebook enforcement actions, this is too little, too late.
Last week, a violent mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, after repeated claims from Trump and his sycophantic right-wing media echo chamber that the election was stolen through nonexistent voter fraud. In response to his incitement of the mob that attacked the Capitol, Facebook temporarily suspended Trump’s account.
The platform may be retroactively removing “Stop the Steal” groups and content now, but the problem has been clear since long before either the riots or even the election. The broader ecosystem of pro-Trump Facebook groups -- and the right-wing media echo chamber that feeds it -- has long fostered conspiracy theories, extremists, and more.
A Media Matters analysis identified at least 70 active Facebook groups that were either named for or affiliated with “Stop the Steal” that Facebook could have taken action against long before today. 46 of these “Stop the Steal” groups were private. Previously, Facebook has had issues consistently enforcing its policies when it comes to private groups, which members have exploited to organize against public health requirements and even to encourage people to bring weapons to the January 6 riots.
Facebook has contested the role such groups played in fomenting the attack on the Capitol. On Monday, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, said: “Our enforcement is never perfect, so I’m sure there were still things on Facebook. I think these events were largely organized on platforms that don’t have our abilities to stop hate, don’t have our standards and don’t have our transparency.”
This piece has been updated to include a specific number of private “Stop the Steal” groups.