Facebook overhauled its policies to prevent the spread of incendiary content in the wake of the Capitol assault. 

But posts advocating for violence and groups dedicated to false election claims are continuing to slip through the cracks – and independent watchdog groups and advocates are finding them before they're removed by the tech giant's own content moderation teams. 

Some examples: 

  • People asked for details about joining a militia in Facebook posts identified by the Tech Transparency Project, a nonprofit tech watchdog group. "We need to organize our militia... Wars are won with guns.. and when they silence your commander in chief you are in a war," read one Jan. 9 post to a public "Patriot Party" group with more than 12,000 members, as CNN reported yesterday. In another private pro-Trump group, a user wrote, "Patriots January 20, 2021 is your Tiananmen Square moment!!!" 
  • Groups dedicated to election fraud claim continued to hide in plain site on Facebook, even after the company committed to crack down on “stop the steal” content, CNN also reported. Researchers with the left-leaning activist group Avaaz found 90 public and private Facebook groups that were circulating baseless claims to a total of 166,000 members. Many of these groups initially had “stop the steal” in their titles, but they altered their profiles to evade Facebook's systems.
  • Ads for armor and shooting accessories continued to surface on the social network, despite Facebook's promises on to suspend such ads until at least two days after the inauguration. Kristofer Goldsmith, the founder and president of the veteran advocacy group High Ground Veterans, shared screenshots on Twitter of a wide range of ads – including for high capacity magazines – that appeared in his feed after the ban.
There's a persistent chasm between what companies say they're doing to moderate content – and their enforcement. 

Tech companies have announced unprecedented steps to ensure that their platforms aren't abused to promote further violence. The company announced on Jan. 11 that it intended to treat Inauguration Day as a “major civic event” – and is deploying many of the additional protections it typically reserves for elections. “We’re taking additional steps and using the same teams and technologies we used during the general election to stop misinformation and content that could incite further violence during these next few weeks,” the company said in a blog post. 

But after years of limited action to address their role in misinformation and violence, they're finding themselves engaged in a game of whack-a-mole where the opponents have a head start. 

"Facebook is proving it is not willing or capable of effectively moderating its platform and has become a danger to the public and to democracy," Katie Paul, director of TTP, told CNN. 

Facebook has taken down many of the ads and posts since they were identified by outside advocates.

Company spokesman Andy Stone told me that the company was removing the ads for weapon accessories that Goldsmith shared on Twitter. The company also told CNN that it was removing the post about the “Tiananmen Square moment!!!” 

"This post violated our Coordinating Harm policy and has been removed but important to note that it violated one of our policies that require more context and can't always be applied at scale. These policies often require specialized teams to gather more information on a given issue in order to make decisions," the company told CNN.

Facebook also said the “Patriot Party” group had been detected by the company's teams, and it confirmed it removed the group on Monday. The company also removed three of the groups identified by Avaaz, Stone told CNN. 

Facebook, Google and Twitter have cracked down on false claims of election fraud from the president and his supporters. Twitter has permanently banned Trump, while Facebook has suspended the president indefinitely and YouTube has suspended his account for a week. They've also taken action on the accounts of his top allies, and Twitter has taken greater action to purge accounts affiliated with the QAnon conspiracy theory from its platform. 

Researchers believe these efforts in concert have limited the spread of misinformation online. The San Francisco firm Zignal Labs found that conversations about election fraud dropped from 2.5 million mentions to 688,000 across several social media sites in the week after Trump's Twitter ban, my colleagues reported

The increased enforcement comes as Democrats are gaining control in Washington. 

The companies' role in fostering extremism and violence is expected to come under further scrutiny under the incoming Biden administration and Democrat-controlled Congress. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told my colleagues he has spoken “extensively” with the Biden transition team about measures to force tech companies to accept greater responsibility for content on their services. He has co-sponsored a bill to reform a key Internet liability shield, known as Section 230, and he said such efforts could be further emboldened by the recent violence at the Capitol. 

“I think the new Congress and new administration will share a very intense focus on reform,” Blumenthal  said.

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Apparel promoting violence at the Capitol is still available online.  

Shopify, Amazon, Etsy and Zazzle are scrambling to remove merchandise with phrases such as “MAGA Civil War” or nods to QAnon conspiracy theories. Even as companies take down some merchandise, more continues to be posted, Sapna Maheshwari and Taylor Lorenz report for the New York Times. 

The reporters on Friday found “Battle for Capitol Hill Veteran” shirts with images of the Capitol building that could be purchased on Amazon, and Etsy was selling a “Biden Likes Minors” shirt in the style of “Black Lives Matters” signs. Meanwhile, Zazzle had a “Civil War 2020” shirt on its site. Etsy and Zazzle have since removed the merchandise; the “Capitol Hill Veteran” shirt was still available on Amazon on Monday.

“Just as the violence put new scrutiny on how social media companies were monitoring speech on their platforms, it also highlighted how e-commerce companies have enabled just about anyone with a credit card and an email address to sell goods online,” Sapna and Taylor wrote.

E-commerce platforms were largely built with a focus on developing a large scale, and little oversight into what vendors were actually selling. 

“There’s so much focus on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, but, in our view, the platforms are much, much wider than social media,”  Danny Rodgers, chief technology officer and co-founder of the Global Disinformation Index, a nonprofit focused on the spread of falsehoods online, told the Times. “There’s a broad diversity of platforms that support and enable these dangerous groups to exist, to fund raise, get their message out. It’s not just kicking people off social media, it’s kicking people off merchandising platforms.”

Biden will gain access to the @POTUS Twitter account when he takes office – but not its existing followers.

Unlike when President Obama turned over the handle to Trump in 2017, Twitter will not carry over the tens of millions of followers of accounts such as @POTUS, @WhiteHouse and @FLOTUS. That means the Biden digital operation will be largely starting from scratch in building an online following, Daniel Victor reports for the New York Times. 

“People on Twitter who previously followed institutional White House Twitter accounts, or who currently follow relevant Biden or Harris Twitter accounts, will receive in-app alerts and other prompts that will notify them about the archival process, as well as give them the option to follow the new administration’s Twitter accounts,” Twitter said in a blog post.

The Biden team is beginning to work on building a following before it even has access to those accounts. @PresElectBiden, which has fewer than 1 million followers, will become @POTUS at 12:01 tomorrow. Vice president-elect Kamala Harris will bring over 5.3 million followers from @SenKamalaHarris to @VP. 

Rob Flaherty, Biden's digital director, criticized the company's move in a tweet:

Rant and rave

Advocates are calling on Facebook and YouTube to follow Twitter's lead and remove Trump from their platforms permanently. One of the leading voices is actor Sacha Baron Cohen: 


Before you log off

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert takes on My Pillow. “You'll sleep better than you ever have, but you'll wake up ready to storm the Capitol.”