Facebook shuts down massive group pushing false election-fraud claims

The social network says it saw "worrying calls for violence from some members of the group."

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Queenie Wong
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Facebook has been cracking down on misinformation about the US election. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Facebook on Thursday shut down a group with more than 364,000 members that was spreading misinformation about voter fraud.

The public group, called Stop the Steal, was pushing false claims that Democrats are trying to "steal" the US presidential election between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. 

"In line with the exceptional measures that we are taking during this period of heightened tension, we have removed the Group 'Stop the Steal,' which was creating real-world events," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group."

Facebook groups are online spaces where people gather to chat about shared interests such as cooking, hiking or parenting. But groups, which can be public or private, have also been filled with misinformation about various topics, including the election and the coronavirus. Earlier Thursday, civil rights activists were calling on the social network to shut down the Stop the Steal group. 

The Center for Countering Digital Hate, which was tracking the group, posted screenshots on Twitter of the Stop the Steal group members calling for violence. In one post, a group member urged military veterans to join a "fire mission" in battleground states. Another post stated that it was "Time to clean the guns, time to hit the streets."The group was also asking users to join rallies in Arizona, Georgia, Florida and other states, according to information from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned analytics tool. 

The group's membership quickly swelled to hundreds of thousands after it was created Wednesday. Renée DiResta, the research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, said during a press conference that membership was largely driven by influencers who encouraged people on other social media platforms to join the Facebook group. 

The group also appeared to be anticipating action by Facebook and was asking members to sign up for updates on a separate website. Members were pushing false claims that Trump had already won the election and that an alleged deep state "froze the election" even though votes are still being counted and a winner hasn't been called. 

The group was started by a conservative organization called Women for America First, according to a page that was archived before it was pulled down. 

Amy Kremer, a political activist with ties to the fiscally conservative Tea Party Movement, and her daughter Kylie founded Women for America First. Kremer accused Facebook in a tweet on Thursday of political bias. The social network has repeatedly denied such allegations. "The left is trying to steal an election and Social media is complicit," Kremer tweeted. 

Kylie Jane Kremer said in a statement that Facebook was intentionally trying to silence conservatives. "Our group was formed to give a voice to the millions of Americans who are concerned about the vote counting process. It is absolutely beyond the pale that Facebook would selectively choose to shut down our group. Is this the same standard they are applying to left wing groups?" she said in a statement.

Some activists say Facebook took too long to shutter the group. There are still Stop the Steal group members on Facebook and new ones continue to pop up, illustrating how content moderation can be a game of whack-a-mole for social networks. 

"Facebook has repeatedly abdicated any responsibility to prevent its platform from being a breeding ground for radicalization and calls to violence, which is exactly what is happening now in groups managed exclusively by the people promoting the bad behavior," Michelle Kuppersmith, the executive director of Campaign for Accountability, a nonprofit watchdog group, said in a statement.

Facebook has taken other steps to limit the spread of election misinformation. The company has temporarily hidden search results for the #stopthesteal hashtag because some of the content violated its rules.