(Reuters) – Facebook Inc on Thursday said it had taken down a rapidly growing group where some supporters of US President Donald Trump posted violent rhetoric and baseless claims that Democrats were stealing the election.
On Thursday afternoon, the “Stop the Steal” group, which called for “boots on the ground to protect the integrity of the vote,” was adding 1,000 new members every 10 seconds and had grown to 365,000 members in a single day.
“The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement.
She said the move was in line with the “exceptional measures” Facebook was taking during “this period of heightened tension.”
Unfounded and debunked claims about the integrity of the US election have been spread on social media by Trump and high-profile Republican accounts and the hashtag #StopTheSteal has gained momentum.
The “Stop the Steal” group had prepared for Facebook to take action, directing new members to an email sign-up page “in the event that social media censors this group.”
Another group using the same name but with different administrators, told its members that no threats would be allowed and that they should take precautions like using images with words rather than text. This group, which had more than 2,000 members, also said it would shift to become private in a few days.
Public Facebook groups can be seen, searched and joined by anyone on Facebook, while only members can see posts in private groups.
Facebook has billed groups as community forums for shared interests but watchdog organizations and social media researchers have argued that they can be hotbeds for hyper-partisan misinformation.
“Facebook has been enabling and amplifying the infrastructure that’s now being used to attack our democratic process,” said Arisha Hatch, executive director of the racial justice group Color Of Change.
Facebook, which normally recommends groups to users that they may want to join based on their activity on the site, last week suspended these recommendations for political groups and new groups around the election.
The now-removed “Stop the Steal” group was run by the Trump action group Women for America First. The non-profit organized protests against COVID-19 restrictions and supported Trump during his impeachment hearing.
On Twitter, one of the Facebook group’s administrators, Amy Kremer, said: “The left is trying to steal an election and Social media is complicit,” she said. “This is outrageous!”
Facebook’s rules ban statements of intent or advocating for violence due to voting, voter registration or the outcome of an election.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in Birmingham, England and Raphael Satter in Washington; Additional reporting by Katie Paul in Palo Alto and Jack Stubbs in London; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Shumaker)