Facebook on Wednesday announced a crackdown on a range of extremist communities on its social networks, including the increasingly mainstream QAnon and not a moment too soon.
Facebook said in a press release published on Wednesday that its new “policy expansion” applies to activity on its platforms “tied to offline anarchist groups that support violent acts amidst protests, US-based militia organisations and QAnon.” So far, the company says, the policy change has resulted in bans on thousands of Instagram pages and Facebook groups.
Pages, Groups, and Instagram pages whose members “discuss violence” will be removed, per the new, and seemingly broad policy. Pages associated with such groups will additionally be forbidden from running ads, selling merchandise, and using fundraising tools on the platforms — things that, alarmingly, were seemingly kosher until literally today. The company says it will soon rank content from these groups lower in the News Feed to limit their reach and reduce their visibility in search on Facebook and Instagram.
“As a result of some of the actions we’ve already taken, we’ve removed over 790 groups, 100 Pages and 1,500 ads tied to QAnon from Facebook, blocked over 300 hashtags across Facebook and Instagram, and additionally imposed restrictions on over 1,950 Groups and 440 Pages on Facebook and over 10,000 accounts on Instagram,” Facebook said, though it did not elaborate on what those restrictions are.
It added: “For militia organisations 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 organisations on Instagram.” To be clear: It is largely far-right militia groups, not people who identify as antifascists, who have been found to have instigated violence at protests despite assertions by Trump to the contrary. But hey, gotta ban both sides, right?
QAnon, for those fortunate enough to be unaware, is a putrid orgy of far-right conspiracy theories that congeal around the idea that the “deep state” is out to get President Donald Trump and his supporters — a fantastical plot that alleges liberal elites, Hollywood, and various government operatives are engaged in a child sex ring, Satanic rituals, cannibalism, and other quaint activities. The movement stems from abstruse “predictions” posted to 4Chan, 8chan, and 8kun by a mysterious figure or figures — “Q” — that claims to have access to high-level government intel. It’d all be easy to ignore if QAnon had remained an imageboard oddity where such rhetoric is par for the course, rather than a brain-ooze that has since infected followers who are believed to have engaged in a kidnapping, the murder of a New York crime boss, as well as counting more than a dozen people running for political office among its ranks, but here we are.
Facebook and Instagram have become breeding grounds for QAnon over the past two years, with an estimated 4.5 million people joining related groups on the social networks before a crackdown began earlier this month. Facebook also reportedly banned more than 100 groups associated with far-right “boogaloo” movement back in April and hundreds more in June — “boogaloo” being in-group lingo for a second Civil War, something its members are in favour of instigating.
So, will Facebook’s crackdown work? Even the company admits it won’t — at least not entirely — with a spokesperson telling NBC News it knows these groups will try to evade its enforcement. “We don’t think we’re flipping a switch and this won’t be a discussion in a week,” the spokesperson said. The success of similar initiatives against health-related misinformation has been lacking according to a recent study.
Such moderation attempts — slow and lacking as they are — went from ineffectual to essentially doomed less than four hours after Facebook announced them.
Trump on Wednesday evening gave credence to QAnon at a White House press conference, saying that he doesn’t “know much about the movement,” but does know that they “love our country” and “supposedly like me.”