Days before the arrest of Cesar Sayoc Jr., the man police say mailed up to 13 pipe bombs to chief political rivals of President Donald Trump, teams of Facebook employees were already busy combing the social network in an effort to remove as many posts as possible praising the attempting terrorist attacks.
Relying on CrowdTangle, an analytics platform Facebook owns, and other tools internally to scour the network, members of various Facebook teams charged with mitigating abuse and working with law enforcement sought out and removed an untold number of posts that glorified the attempted bombings.
A source with knowledge of Facebook’s efforts said the teams were not relying solely on other users to report the content; in this case taking proactive measures instead to remove any posts or pages commending or celebrating the pipe bomber.
It is common in the wake of terrorist attacks and mass shootings for Facebook pages to pop up that lionise the individuals responsible. Pages and profiles impersonating the suspects are also typical.
The 56-year-old suspect, whose van was found plastered with pro-Trump and anti-media stickers, as well as photos of Democratic leaders depicted in crosshairs, was arrested in Florida on Friday after authorities lifted one of his fingerprints from a device sent to Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, according to federal law enforcement authorities. Sayoc’s DNA was also found on at least one of the devices, they said.
The first bomb was delivered to an employee of billionaire investor and Democratic donor George Soros on Monday. On Friday, bombs were found addressed to Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, as well as former intelligence chief James Clapper. Other targets include Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden, among others. A bomb was also discovered Wednesday in the CNN mailroom addressed to former CIA director John Brennan.
While none of the bombs exploded, FBI Director Christopher Wray confirmed Friday they were “not hoax devices.”
Sayoc has been charged with five felonies, including interstate transportation of an explosive and threats against former presidents. If convicted, he’ll face up for 48 years in prison.
A Facebook account believed to belong to Sayoc was quickly taken down Friday for two reasons: Facebook is currently cooperating law enforcement whose investigation is ongoing, and the account itself was found to be in violation of Facebook’s policies.
“There is absolutely no place on our platforms for people who attempt such horrendous acts,” a Facebook spokesperson told Gizmodo. “We have found and immediately removed the suspect’s accounts on Facebook and Instagram. We will also continue to remove content that praises or supports the bombing attempt or the suspect as soon as we’re aware.”
Sayoc also had multiple Twitter accounts where he posted dozens of threats against actors, journalists, and Democratic politicians. The accounts remained online much of Friday before Twitter suspended them.