September 29, 2023

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Facebook failed to remove Kenosha Guard militia event that called for violence


Facebook is facing scrutiny over how it handled an event created by a militia group called the Kenosha Guard.

Angela Lang/CNET

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg suggested to employees last week that the company pulled down both an event and page created by a militia group called the Kenosha Guard before a deadly shooting at a protest in Wisconsin but should have acted sooner. 

Zuckerberg’s remarks, though, were partly false. On Thursday, BuzzFeed News reported that Facebook never pulled down the event despite receiving 455 reports from users who flagged the content for violating its rules. The Kenosha Guard event issued a “call to arms” before racial justice protests, The Verge reported this week. An administrator for the Kenosha Guard’s Facebook page not the company removed the event a day after the shooting, BuzzFeed reported, citing internal company discussions.

“When we responded to questions about our initial investigation into what happened in Kenosha, we believed we’d removed the Event Page for violating our policies. Our investigation found that while we did remove the Kenosha Guard Page, the event page was removed by the organizer. We apologize for the error,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement. 

Facebook’s failure to remove the event and the page before the shooting happened raises concerns about how well the company is moderating content on its site that could incite violence. In screenshots of comments on the event’s page shared by BuzzFeed, one user said he or she was going to “kill looters and rioters” at the protest. The social network has also been under more pressure from civil rights groups, advertisers and even its own employees to do more to combat hate speech on the platform. 

Protests pushing for racial justice erupted after Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot seven times in the back by Kenosha police during an arrest in August and became paralyzed. During a protest in Kenosha, two protesters were shot to death and another person was wounded. Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old resident of Antioch, Illinois, was accused of killing the two protesters. He was arrested and charged with first-degree intentional homicide and other criminal counts.

Facebook hasn’t found any evidence that Rittenhouse followed the Kenosha Guard Page or that he was invited to the group’s event. The page and event violated a new policy that Facebook rolled out about “Dangerous Organizations and Individuals,” Zuckerberg told employees. Under those rules, Facebook would remove accounts, pages and groups formed by organizations and movements that pose a threat to public safety if they discussed potential violence.

Zuckerberg said the page and event were removed after a second review and that the company didn’t act sooner because of an “operational mistake.”

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