- Facebook was cited in more legal docs about the Capitol riots than any other social-media platform.
- Mark Zuckerberg told Congress it’s because Facebook has been cooperating with law enforcement.
- On Thursday, he also downplayed Facebook’s role allowing misinformation and violence to spread.
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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a theory about why his company keeps showing up in legal documents surrounding the attempted insurrection on January 6: it’s just doing a really good job helping out with law enforcement’s investigations.
Last month, a report found Facebook was the most-widely referenced social-media platform in court documents used to charge 223 people with crimes in connection with Capitol attacks.
On Thursday, Congress hauled the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter, and Google-parent Alphabet in for a hearing to examine the role social media companies played in amplifying misinformation and allowing extremists to organize, and Zuckerberg was grilled about the report.
Rep. Paul Tonko, a Democrat from New York, asked Zuckerberg whether he still denied Facebook was a “significant megaphone for the lies that fueled the insurrection” amid “growing evidence” suggesting it was, including the charging documents.
“I think part of the reason why our services are very cited in the charging docs is because we worked closely with law enforcement to help identify the people who were there,” Zuckerberg said, adding that such “collaboration” shouldn’t “be seen as a negative reflection on our services.”
Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives have repeatedly downplayed the company’s role in the insurrection. COO Sheryl Sandberg said in mid-January the “Stop the Steal” rally, which immediately preceded the Capitol attacks, “were largely organized on platforms that don’t have our abilities to stop hate, and don’t have our standards, and don’t have our transparency.”
But numerous media and research reports have emerged since then showing that, despite its talk about cracking down, Facebook still allowed misinformation to spread widely and violence-promoting groups to gather.
A report from the research group Avaaz, released this week, found 267 violence-glorifying groups, with a combined audience of 32 million people, had “almost tripled their monthly interactions – from 97 million interactions in October 2019 to 277.9 million interactions in July 2020.”
Avaaz said 188 of those groups remained active despite “clear violations of Facebook’s policies,” and that even after contacting Facebook, the company still let 97 groups continue to use its platform.
Facebook executives have long known its groups-focused features have been a hotbed of extremism. The Wall Street Journal reported in January Facebook’s data scientists told the company 70% of its 100 most active “civic groups” were rife with hate speech, misinformation, bullying, and harassment.
“Our existing integrity systems,” they told executives, according to The Journal, “aren’t addressing these issues.”
Zuckerberg and others at Facebook, such as policy head Joel Kaplan, even killed or weakened projects aimed at stemming the flow of such content, The Journal previously reported.
Yet Zuckerberg this week continued to deny Facebook has a serious issue with how it moderates content.
“There was content on our services from some of [the insurrectionists],” he said. “I think that that was problematic, but by and large, I also think that by putting in place policies banning QAnon, banning militias, banning other conspiracy networks, we generally made our services inhospitable to a lot of these folks.”
So far, the evidence doesn’t appear to support Zuckerberg’s claims.
The Tech Transparency Project said it has been warning Facebook about the surge in far-right groups since last April, but continued to find “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.”