Facebook had known about the militia group, Kenosha Guard which had used Facebook to organize against the recent Black Lives Matter protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, according to The Verge. The group issued a call to arms, urging gun owners to defend the city from those protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake by police.
Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha policeman while attempting to arrest him over a domestic violence charge, leaving him paralyzed and sparking a wave of protests across the city. In response, Kenosha Guard created an event called “Armed Citizens to Protect our Lives and Property,” which has been shared by far-right forum InfoWars, and calling for “patriots” to take up arms and defend Kenosha city from protesters – which they called “evil thugs”.
The militia group joined police in suppressing protesters and rioters and were apparently welcomed by some. On Wednesday, a member of the group – now identified as 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse – opened fire, killing two protesters. It appeared he left the scene unnoticed, and was later identified through CCTV footage and charged with double homicide.
Facebook has now taken down the Kenosha Guard group and blocked Rittenhouse’s accounts from both Facebook and Instagram. But, The Verge found, Facebook had had ample warning to remove the group prior to the fatal atrocities of Wednesday night.
The Verge heard from two people who claim to have reported the event and some of the comments before the event took place.
One source said she had reported the event to Facebook and was told that “the event itself was not in violation of platform policy, but specific comments could be reported for inciting violence”. When she did report a comment threatening to put nails in protesters cars, she was told that it didn’t violate Facebook’s policies either.
Another source reported the event itself and was told the same thing.
Following the shooting and subsequent arrest of Rittenhouse, Facebook released a statement titled “An Update to How We Address Movements and Organizations Tied to Violence” which detailed the expansion of its Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy and claimed they will be reviewing other content and accounts against all its content policies “in an effort to keep people safe”.
“Today we are taking action against Facebook Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts tied to offline anarchist groups that support violent acts amidst protests, US-based militia organizations and QAnon,” the announcement stated.
It added: “For militia organizations and those encouraging riots, including some who may identify as Antifa, we’ve initially removed over 980 groups, 520 Pages and 160 ads from Facebook. We’ve also restricted over 1,400 hashtags related to these groups and organizations on Instagram”.
The new policy addresses groups that pose “significant risks to public safety but do not meet the rigorous criteria to be designated as a dangerous organization and banned from having any presence on our platform”. Users will be allowed to post in support of such groups, but Facebook will restrict them from organizing on the platform by downranking them in search results and news feeds, removing them from recommendation lists and prohibiting fundraising. When these groups discuss potential violence, explicitly or with the use of veiled language, then they will be banned.
Though it has become apparent that Rittenhouse considered himself militia, Facebook told The Verge that “We have not found evidence on Facebook that suggests the shooter followed the Kenosha Guard Page or that he was invited on the Event Page they organized. However, the Kenosha Guard Page and their Event Page violated our new policy addressing militia organizations and have been removed on that basis”.
But it all feels too little too late. This is another instance in which Facebook failed to prevent the real-life outcome of online threats. Among accusations of censoring right-wing views, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg is careful not to be accused of anti-conservative bias.