Facebook announced Tuesday that it was removing more groups and accounts associated with the decentralized, antigovernment Boogaloo movement just as three Democratic senators sent a letter to the company calling out its poor track record on racial justice, tamping down hate, and giving voice to far-right extremists.
Facebook is scrambling this week to stop a revolt among major advertisers that is spooking investors as well, stemming from national boycotts of businesses that activists say enable hate speech and systemic racism. That effort has already put CEO Mark Zuckerberg in the awkward position of reversing a previously staunchly held opinion that Facebook need not fact-check presidents or other politicians, and should not be an "arbiter of truth" when it comes to public figures.
On Tuesday, Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) jointly penned a letter to Zuckerberg, as TechCrunch reports, asking a series of questions about the disconnect between Facebook's stated policies and its actual track record on hateful content and extremist groups. And the senators inquired specifically about conservative lobbyist Joel Kaplan, who continues to serve as Facebook's vice president of global public policy, and whether he has influenced certain decisions the company has made in the last year.
"The United States is going through a long-overdue examination of the systemic racism prevalent in our society," the three senators write. "Americans of all races, ages and backgrounds have bravely taken to the streets to demand equal justice for all. While Facebook has attempted to publicly align itself with this movement, its failure to address the hate spreading on its platform reveals significant gaps between Facebook’s professed commitment to racial justice and the company’s actions and business interests."
The senators point to an April 22 report by the Tech Transparency Project that showed multiple right-wing extremist groups in the U.S. fomenting a militant uprising on the platform. The report pointed specifically at 125 groups affiliated with Boogaloo movement that had been allowed to grow unchecked until early June — when Facebook suddenly began a crackdown that continues through this week following acts of real-life violence, including two in the Bay Area, linked to the movement. And the researchers found that 113 of the 221 white supremacist groups tracked by the Southern Policy Law Center maintain a presence on Facebook, despite Facebook having ostensibly banned white nationalist and white supremacist content.
The senators also specifically mention the Bay Area shootings allegedly committed in late May and early June by Air Force Sergeant Steven Carrillo, and the evidence that Carrillo and his accomplice in one of those shootings met and made their violent plans on Facebook.
"The prevalence of white supremacist and other extremist content on Facebook—and the ways in which these groups have been able to use the platform as organizing infrastructure — is unacceptable," they write. "Facebook’s Community Standards expressly state: 'We do not allow hate speech on Facebook.'... In light of these clear policies... we are concerned Facebook is unable (or unwilling) to enforce its own Community Standards and rid itself of white supremacist and other extremist content."
Facebook now has until July 10 to respond to a series of questions from the senators.
The questions are:
1. Does Facebook affirm its policy against hate speech and will it seriously enforce this policy?
2. What procedures has Facebook put in place to identify and remove hate speech from its platform? To what degree do these procedures differ with respect to public Facebook pages and private groups?
3. Does Facebook affirm its policy against violence and incitement and will it seriously enforce this policy?
4. What procedures has Facebook put in place to identify and remove violence and incitement from its platform? To what degree do these procedures differ with respect to public Facebook pages and private groups?
5. Does Facebook affirm its commitment to ban “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism on Facebook and Instagram” as detailed in the company’s May 27, 2019 post and will it seriously enforce this commitment?
6. What steps has Facebook implemented since announcing this policy to remove “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism on Facebook and Instagram?”
7. Please provide our offices with any Facebook internal research concerning the platform’s amplification of extremist groups.
8. How often are you personally briefed on the status of domestic extremist and white supremacist groups on Facebook and the platform’s efforts to address these groups?
9. Who is the senior-most Facebook official responsible for addressing white supremacist groups’ activity on Facebook and which Facebook executive does this employee report directly to?
10. What role did Vice President of Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan play in Facebook’s decision to shut down and de-prioritize internal efforts to contain extremist and hyperpolarizing activity on Facebook?
11. What role did Mr. Kaplan play in the participation of the Daily Caller, an outlet with longstanding ties to white nationalist groups, in Facebook’s fact-checking program?
12. When violent extremist groups actively and openly use a platform’s tools to coordinate violence, should federal law continue to protect the platform from civil liability for its role in facilitating that activity?
Also on Tuesday, Facebook announced that it is shutting down 220 Facebook accounts, 95 Instagram accounts, 28 pages, and 106 groups associated with the Boogaloo movement, and it is adding Boogaloo to its list of "dangerous" organizations, even though it isn't an organization in its own right.
In a blog post, the company defines this collection of Boogaloo groups and accounts as a "violent network," and refers to the removal of the accounts as a "strategic network disruption."
"So long as violent movements operate in the physical world, they will seek to exploit digital platforms," the company says. "We are stepping up our efforts against this network and know there is still more to do."
Today's actions follow on the June 17 removal of a couple of Boogaloo groups that had been specifically used by Carrillo and his alleged accomplice, Robert Justus. At the time, SFist noted multiple Boogaloo groups were still operating and sharing memes with impunity.
Facebook (temporarily) lost major advertisers Unilever and Proctor and Gamble last week due to the growing advertiser boycott, which itself has more to do with the Black Lives Matter movement than with amplifying antigovernment groups — though the Venn diagrams of various ideologies on the libertarian and alt-right spectrum tend to have plenty of overlap with white-supremacists and militia groups. In response to the boycott, Zuckerberg finally found a conscience and announced that the company would begin banning political ads that contain hate content, and begin labeling and/or removing posts by politicians that contain lies or misinformation aimed at voter suppression.