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Capitol Attack Was Months in the Making on Facebook

Tech Transparency Project: “Facebook suspended President Trump following the mob attack on Congress. But the platform allowed organizing for the pro-Trump rally, as well as the spread of conspiracy theories and militant extremism that drove the rioters. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg made headlines for saying the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol was “largely organized” on other platforms, suggesting Facebook had done better than others at taking down dangerous content.

Not only is that assertion false, according to research by the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), but it ignores the fact that Facebook spent the past year allowing election conspiracies and far-right militia activity to proliferate on its platform, laying the groundwork for the broader radicalization that fueled the Capitol insurrection in the first place.

For months, TTP has watched extremist groups use Facebook to organize and incite members, fueled by President Trump’s baseless allegations of voter fraud and a “rigged” election. Despite Facebook’s new move to suspend Trump’s account and other recent actions, the militant movement it allowed to flourish for so long threatens to continue its campaign of violence heading into President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, and beyond. For TTP, one of the first signs of mounting danger came from “boogaloo” groups, which we reported in April were using Facebook to prepare for a second civil war, often citing conspiratorial fears about coronavirus lockdowns. Members of private boogaloo groups flagged by TTP later engaged in real or attempted violence—an ominous warning of how online radicalization can spin out of control. But that was just the beginning. Since last fall, TTP has documented numerous instances of domestic extremists discussing weapons and tactics, coordinating their activities, and spreading calls to overthrow the government on Facebook, up to and including the mob attack on the Capitol, which left at least five people dead. Much of the activity took place in private Facebook groups—insulated communities that allow people to organize out of the public eye while still having access to a large online following. Here are some of the key takeaways from that research…”

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