Facebook's disinformation purge missed some major far-right networks

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

On October 11, Facebook announced the removal of 559 pages and 251 accounts that had “consistently broken [its] rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior.” Facebook’s disinformation purge included two networks of far-right pages connected to the websites America’s Freedom Fighters and Right Wing News, right-wing sites that post fake news and clickbait. Facebook also removed individual pages belonging to fake news sites Allen West Republic, Overpasses For America, Molon Labe Industries, Clash Daily with Doug Giles, and Silence is Consent.

Some removed pages from Right Wing News’ network had also run paid political ads on Facebook featuring false news and misleading headlines.

Facebook’s takedown removed a plethora of bad actors who have used networks of pages and groups to coordinate and amplify the spread of anti-immigrant and racist content. However, other similar far-right disinformation pages on the platform are still up. Three other major networks that have regularly spread viral far-right propaganda and false news are connected to the fake news sites TruthFeed, Mad World News, and The Political Insider. All three of these networks recycle the same meme narratives as America’s Freedom Fighters and Right Wing News’ Facebook pages do, but they have been unaffected by Facebook’s recent action.

And while Facebook’s purge did impact some far-reaching Facebook networks, popular individual right-wing pages that regularly share false news and disinformation seemed largely unaffected. These pages include Judge Jeanine Pirro Has Fans, The Federalist Papers, Cold Dead Hands, and Occupy Democrats Logic.

And although this takedown has impacted a number of pages that push false political news and hate speech, it likely won’t affect currently active high-performing right-wing meme pages and networks.

A recent Media Matters study found that images posted by right-leaning pages were the highest performing type of political content on Facebook between January 1 and July 1, 2018. And in a follow-up study, Media Matters found that a subset of 26 right-leaning pages that we identified as meme pages (because they regularly post memes) were outperforming right-leaning, left-leaning, and nonaligned political Facebook pages.

Since these studies were published, right-wing meme pages have continued to thrive on Facebook -- and they have continued outperforming all other types of political pages. In our earlier studies, between January 1 and July 1, 2018, right-leaning and left-leaning pages had virtually the same average weekly interaction rates (number of interactions per post divided by page likes), while right-leaning meme pages had twice those interaction rates.

Although average weekly interaction rates for right-leaning pages, left-leaning pages, and nonaligned pages have decreased between July 1 and October 6, right-leaning meme pages still had around twice as high weekly interaction rates compared to left-leaning and right-leaning pages.

Images and memes posted by right-leaning pages have continued outperforming those posted by left-leaning pages. Every week from July 1 to October 6, our sample of 26 right-leaning meme pages earned more interactions on image posts than our sample of 107 left-leaning pages did on their image posts.

Data from July 1 through October 6 has slightly different sample sizes since some of the pages were removed since the original study was published. The latter sample looks at 170 right-leaning pages and 107 left-leaning pages. The number of right-leaning meme pages from the collection period is the same.