Facebook saw signs of violence ahead of the Capitol riot, but was too scared to bring it up with Trump, book says

Zuck
Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2018.

  • Facebook detected an upsurge in posts by extremists ahead of January 6, a new book says.
  • Executives, it says, mulled asking Mark Zuckerberg to reach out to Trump but decided against it.
  • Facebook has long been criticised for allowing extremist content to spread on its platform.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Facebook was so concerned about the violent rhetoric spreading on its platform ahead of January 6 that it considered contacting President Donald Trump, a new book claims.

But it instead decided against it for fear of bad publicity, according to an excerpt from “An Ugly Truth” by New York Times reporters Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang.

The excerpt was published by CNN’s in the July 13 edition of its “Reliable Sources” email.

It says that security experts at Facebook grew concerned about posts by “domestic extremists” spreading on the platform before January 6, 2021, when Trump had planned a rally near the Capitol to push his bogus election fraud claims.

Facebook executives, the authors write, “floated getting Zuckerberg to call Trump to find out what the president would say” at the rally.

“They ultimately decided against the move, out of concern that the conversation would likely leak to the press. It could make Facebook complicit in whatever Trump did that day.”

In a statement to Insider, a Facebook spokesperson pushed back against the claims though did not address the specific claim that the idea of approaching Trump was dismissed before it was broached with Zuckerberg.

“No such discussion took place with Mark, nobody suggested he call, and he didn’t. If Trump ignored the pleas of his own Vice President, the idea that Mark Zuckerberg could have influenced him is absurd,” said the spokesperson.

The anecdote was also related by Bloomberg tech reporter Sarah Frier in a review of the book in The New York Times on Saturday.

Facebook executives, Frier wrote, decided not to act over the violent rhetoric. “Instead, they sat at home and watched as Trump stirred up the furious crowd, and as threats in Facebook posts escalated into real-world attacks on the Capitol.”

The book explores Facebook’s failings in allowing extremist propaganda and disinformation to spread on its platforms, reaching millions of its users. The site has long been accused of acting slowly and in a piecemeal way to counter the spread of extremist content, and lacking a proactive strategy on the issue.

A report by the Tech Transparency Project found that Facebook had been one of the main gathering spaces for the the far-right extremists involved in the Capitol insurrection.

The platform’s CEO, Sheryl Sandberg, last year faced criticism for claiming that the disinformation that fueled the riot was mainly spreading on other platforms.

The excerpt from the book indicates that top executives knew that this was likely false.

Facebook in its statement to Insider said that “our teams were vigilant in removing content that violated our policies against inciting violence leading up to January 6th. We were prepared for this and have been more aggressive than any other internet company in combating harmful content, including content that sought to delegitimize the election.”

The spokesperson pointed to measures including banning extremist movements such as QAnon from the platform, and banning Trump for at least two years for his posts during the riot.

Trump and Zuckerberg had an uneasy relationship during Trump’s term, with the site one of the Trump campaign’s key platforms for its propaganda efforts.

Since his ban and departure from office, Trump haslaunched a lawsuit against Facebook and other tech firms, citing his ban as well as alleging wider bias against conservatives.

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