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Facebook flooded with over 650,000 posts attacking election before Jan. 6 riot, report says

An investigation by ProPublica and The Washington Post alleges Facebook played a key role in fanning the flames that led up to the deadly Capitol riot.

Jan. 6 US Capitol riot (Getty)
Facebook was full of posts attacking the 2020 election ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, an investigation finds.
Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Facebook groups were deluged with more than 650,000 posts attacking the 2020 election results ahead of the deadly US Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, according to an investigation conducted by ProPublica and The Washington Post. 

The posts went up at a clip of more than 10,000 a day between Election Day on Nov. 3, 2020, and the day of the Capitol riot -- many of them falsely labeling Joe Biden's election victory as fraudulent and many going as far as explicitly calling for violence, according to the investigation.

Though former President Donald Trump was suspended from Facebook over concerns that his rhetoric played a role in inciting the Jan. 6 violence, the investigation suggested Facebook itself played an outsize role in stoking rage that led up to the riot.

The report alleges that Facebook's heavy dependence on groups to drive engagement on the platform played a major part in increasing the reach of false information and inflammatory posts.

Trump supporters took to Facebook to demand a reversal of the results after the election, falsely claiming it was stolen via fraud. Posts calling for "civil war in the streets" and violence at the Capitol became common in pro-Trump Facebook groups. One post said, "Everyone needs to make a show of FORCE in DC on the 6th." Another included the phrases "fight like hell" and "shoot the traitors," while another suggested using firing squads to eliminate the "political elite who undermine our freedoms."

Drew Pusateri, a spokesperson for Facebook's parent company, Meta, said in an emailed statement: "The notion that the January 6 insurrection would not have happened but for Facebook is absurd. The former president of the United States pushed a narrative that the election was stolen, including in-person a short distance from the Capitol building that day. The responsibility for the violence that occurred on January 6 lies with those who attacked our Capitol and those who encouraged them. We have a long track record of effective cooperation with law enforcement, including the agencies responsible for addressing threats of domestic terrorism."

The investigation also concluded that though Facebook has sought to downplay its role in the events at the Capitol, the social media giant did little to effectively police and remove the violent content. Ahead of the election, Facebook reportedly established a special Group task force to police politically focused groups. Although the task force succeeded in removing hundreds of groups promoting violent content, according to the investigation, Facebook shut it down following the election and scaled back other enforcement measures. 

Facebook dialing down content enforcement after the election, mixed with the company's emphasis on promoting group engagement on its platform, resulted in an unchecked torrent of posts spreading misinformation and calls for violence on the site, according to the investigation.