January 6 insurrection and Facebook: Internal docs paint a damning picture - Social Media Explorer
January 6 insurrection and Facebook: Internal docs paint a damning picture
January 6 insurrection and Facebook: Internal docs paint a damning picture

SME asked Sandberg about her quote and whether she stood firm behind it. A Facebook spokesperson responded that Sandberg’s quote was contextualized. The spokesperson stated that Jan. 6 was a large-scale online event, and included Facebook’s platforms.

Haugen’s main allegations about the company center on the attack on Capitol. She claims that Facebook misled investors, the public and the SEC about its role in perpetuating misinformation.

The Wall Street Journal first published leaked documents from Haugen earlier this year. The Facebook Files, the ongoing series of reports published by The Wall Street Journal, revealed many secrets that caught the attention of lawmakers from around the world.

Facebook denies the premise behind Haugen’s conclusions. Haugen claims that he has cherry-picked documents to give an unfair portrayal.

“Those who attacked the Capitol and those who encouraged them are responsible for the violence that occurred January 6. We took steps to limit the content that attempted to delegitimize this election, including labeling candidate posts with the latest vote count after Mr. Trump prematurely declared his victory, pausing political advertising and removing #StopTheStealGroup in November,” Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesperson, told SME Friday.

“After the violence at Capitol erupted, and as we saw continued attempts of organizing events to dispute the result of the presidential election outcome, we removed content with the phrase “stop the steal” under our Coordinating Harm Policy and suspended Trump from our platform.

Facebook published a blog posting by Guy Rosen (its vice president of Integrity) on Friday night about its efforts in 2020.

“Our enforcement was patchy”

Haugen included an internal analysis of the spread of the Stop the Steal movement and Patriot Party movements on Facebook. This analysis was first reported earlier this year by BuzzFeed News.

“Hindsight” is the author of the analysis. They are not identifiable from the information provided.[A]It was hard to tell at the time if what we were seeing was a concerted effort to delegitimize an election or whether it was protected expression by users who were afraid and confused. It is important to look back at the history of the election delegitimizing movements that grew, spread conspiracies, and incited the Capitol insurrection.

The analysis showed that the policies, procedures, and processes Facebook had in place were simply inadequate to slow or halt the “meteoric,” growth of Stop the Steal. The analysis revealed that Facebook treated Stop the Steal content and people or groups as an individual rather than as a whole. This led to dire results.

The analysis states that “almost all of the fastest-growing FB Groups were Stop the Steal” during their peak growth. We were able to remove individual Pages and Groups only after they had exceeded a certain violation threshold. This was because we looked at each entity separately, not as a whole. We were unable act on simple objects like comments or posts because they were all prone to violating, even if they were surrounded in hate, violence, misinformation, and violence.

The analysis shows that this approach did eventually change but it was too late.

“After the Capitol Insurrection and a Wave of Storm the Capitol Events across the country, it became apparent that the individual delegitimizing groups, pages, and slogans did constitute one cohesive movement,” the analysis states.

Facebook did not anticipate Stop the Steal in this way, nor did it respond in a timely manner.

Facebook has had a policy prohibiting “coordinated and inauthentic behavior” on its platforms for some time. This ban allows it take action against, such as, the Russian trolling army that tried to interfere with the 2016 US Election through accounts and pages made to appear American. But, the analysis notes with emphasis that Facebook had “little policy regarding coordinated authentic harm” — which is to say, little to prevent people from organizing under their real names to try to get the country to reject their election results.

According to the analysis, Patriot Party and Stop The Steal groups “were not directly mobilizing offline violence nor were they directly encouraging militarization.” They “instead, they were normalizing and amplifying misinformation and violent hatred in a manner that delegitimized a fair and free democratic election.” The harm was at the network level. While speech rights are protected for individuals, the movement legitimized hate and delegitimization, which in turn led to offline harm and damage to democratic norms.

However, the analysis does highlight that after Facebook saw the results from Stop the Steal on Jan 6th and took immediate action, it was able deploy measures that stopped the growth of both Stop the Steal as Patriot Party groups.

SME spoke with Stone, a Facebook representative. He said that Facebook had taken extraordinary steps to remove harmful content and would continue to do so. We also closely collaborated with law enforcement in the days and week since January 6th, with the aim of making sure that the information linking January 6th’s criminals to the responsible persons is available.

Pulling levers

Before leaving the tech giant, Haugen started gathering evidence about the company. To avoid being caught taking screenshots of internal Facebook systems, Haugen used her phone to snap photos of her computer screen.

Haugen took pictures of the Facebook response to the Washington insurrection.

One of the documents she captured was titled “Capitol Protest BTTG”. [Break the Glass]”Response” was a list of possible actions Facebook could take to respond to the attack on January 6. It appears that the chart was prepared in advance. When Haugen took the picture, less than two hours after the Capitol was breached, Facebook had already implemented some of the measures, while others were still being considered. The chart listed possible actions such as degrading “content deemed to violate our community standard in the areas of hate speech and graphic violence, violence and incitement.”

These are “US2020 Levers”, previously rolled back.

Facebook refers to those “levers” as measures or guardrails it put in place prior to last year’s Presidential Election in an effort to reduce hate speech and misinformation. Facebook has not been forthcoming in its public statements on the exact measures it took to reverse the election results and the reasons it did so at a time when the current president was questioning the results.

But according to the “Capitol Protest BTG response” document, the guardrails Facebook reimplemented on January 6th included reducing the visibility of posts likely to be reported and freezing “commenting on posts in Groups that start to have a high rate of hate speech and violence & incitement comments,” among others.

Haugen claims that these levers were restored “only after the insurrection flared.”

Stone responded to questions about the decision to dial back the levers and push them again. These signals changed, and so did the measures.

A line that runs through the entire process

Some employees reacted to the messages posted by Facebook executives condemning the riot both publicly and internally.

“There were dozens upon dozens of Stop the Steal organizations active up to yesterday, and I doubt that they minced words about what their intentions are,” one employee wrote in response a post by Mike Schroepfer.

Another wrote, “All right respect, but haven’t we had enough to figure out how to manage discussion without enabling violence?” We have been fueling this fire for a while and it shouldn’t surprise that it’s now out-of-control.

Other Facebook employees claimed that company leadership had contributed to the creation of the conditions that allowed for the attack on the US Capitol.

One staffer responded to Schroepfer’s posting by writing that leadership overrides research-based policy decisions to better serve people such as the groups inciting violence today. Although rank and file workers made efforts to improve our platforms, they were actively discouraged.”

Another staffer, referring to years of questionable and controversial decisions made by Facebook leadership in relation to political speech, concluded that “history won’t judge us kindly.”

About the Author

Adam is an owner at Nanohydr8. He really loves comedy and satire, and the written word in general.

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