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5 Nov, 2020 21:47

Stop ‘Stop the Steal’? Facebook repeatedly boots pro-Trump election integrity group for real-world organizing amid 'tension'

Stop ‘Stop the Steal’? Facebook repeatedly boots pro-Trump election integrity group for real-world organizing amid 'tension'

Facebook has repeatedly deplatformed pro-Trump anti-voter-fraud group Stop the Steal, citing an “exceptional” post-election “period of heightened tension” and the group’s creation of “real-world events” in its unusual decision.

In line with the exceptional measures that we are taking during this period of heightened tension, we have removed the Group ‘Stop the Steal,’ which was creating real-world events,” a Thursday statement from Facebook regarding the deletion stated.

The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group,” Facebook told the Daily Beast. With the group deleted, it is no longer possible to retrieve content its members posted, including any potential “calls for violence.” 

Stop the Steal existed as a group on Facebook for less than 24 hours, reportedly racking up over 360,000 members before it got the boot. The group was recreated - and re-deleted - at least once more. While Facebook has a policy against inciting violence, which it has deployed to cleanse the platform of QAnon and other "fringe" groups, "creating real-world events" is one of the purposes of Facebook groups, and the platform's explanation did not elaborate further.

As a hashtag, #StoptheSteal has been used by Trump supporters to decry alleged incidents of voter fraud in multiple battleground states, including Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nevada. The president’s campaign has taken legal action in those five states to either halt the ballot count or attempt a recount, frequently citing Republican complaints about not being permitted to observe the count.

The phrase has also been claimed by a coalition of Trump-supporting internet personalities who are organizing real-world rallies under the name. Conservative pundit Mike Cernovich, former Naval intelligence officer Jack Posobiec, “Walk Away” ex-Democrat organizer Brandon Straka, and the advocacy group Women for Trump - among others - have staged demonstrations outside polling places in those same battleground states, supposedly to “bring accountability and oversight” to an election whose tabulation has drawn on for nearly three days with no clear winner in sight and reported anomalies.

A handful of Republican politicians, including Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar and Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, as well as the president’s own sons have lent their support to the effort on social media, with both Eric and Donald Jr. tweeting out the hashtag in the days following the election. Some of the tweets were hidden behind Twitter’s “disputed” election warning.

Rumors of election fraud have been picked up from the Trump campaign, from 10,000 votes in Nevada allegedly coming from "voters" no longer living in the state, to Trump ballots being outright thrown away. The conservative muckraking group Project Veritas interviewed a self-identified Postal Service whistleblower who claimed officials in Michigan were illegally backdating ballots postmarked after Election Day to make them eligible to be counted - a claim that quickly went viral. At the same time, Twitter and Facebook have scrambled to keep a lid on any claim that cast doubt on the integrity of the presidential election.

However, others have insisted the post-election censorship does not go far enough. Online peer-pressure group Sleeping Giants complained that Facebook’s inclusion of Breitbart on its “News” tab had increased the conservative site’s popularity during the critical months of election season, questioning the platform’s commitment to “dealing with disinformation” even while helping it remove later iterations of “Stop the Steal.”

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