With democrats in power in President Biden’s Washington, the conversation about Facebook has quickly shifted from the GOP boogeyman of “anti-conservative bias” to how the company’s platforms helped fuel the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Facebook has already tried to deflect attention from the company’s role in the mayhem and violence. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said the events were “largely organized” on other companies’ services. In his opening remarks, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will emphasize steps Facebook has taken to remove or fact-check election-related misinformation that led to people protesting the election’s outcome.
But shortly after the presidential election, President Donald Trump and his allies began to contest the results, often using the hashtag #StoptheSteal as a rallying cry. Groups promoting Stop the Steal immediately amassed hundreds of thousands of members, and some of the content in those groups promoted violence and openly talked of civil war.
Facebook removed one of the large groups, and temporarily disabled the hashtag. But as the days wore on and more states certified Biden’s victory, the hashtag was again allowed to circulate, and more groups formed.
That energy and organizing led to planning for Trump’s rally on Jan. 6.
Despite Sandberg’s comments, promotion of the event took place on Facebook in the run-up to the rally, The Washington Post reported.
More than 100,000 users posted hashtags affiliated with the movement prompted by baseless claims of election fraud, including #StopTheSteal and #FightForTrump. The #StoptheSteal hashtag was still active five days after the riot, according to researchers.
At least two dozen Republican Party officials and organizations in at least 12 states posted on Facebook to coordinate bus trips to the rally, while users posted maps of the day’s events on Facebook-owned Instagram.
A meme posted on Facebook on Jan. 5 called for “Operation Occupy the Capitol” and promoted the hashtag #1776Rebel.
While many of these posts and memes did not include outright calls for violence, or could be read figuratively, critics have said Facebook should have taken stronger action. They point out that early on, the Stop the Steal movement had been associated with violence and encouraged lawbreaking, and that social media researchers had publicly pointed to a serious possibility of violence among groups organizing for the rally.
Lawmakers will likely press Zuckerberg on these themes.