Zuckerberg acknowledges failure to take down Kenosha militia group despite warnings

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Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that Facebook failed to take down a page and event calling for an armed response to anti-police brutality protests in Kenosha, Wis., despite users reporting them.

The Facebook CEO said during a Q&A with employees Friday that was later posted onto this public page that “it was largely an operational mistake.”

“It’s because the team that enforces our policy against dangerous organizations is a specialized team,” he explained. “The contractors and the reviewers who the initial complaints were funneled to basically didn’t pick this up, and on second review, doing it more sensitively, the team … that’s responsible for dangerous organizations recognized that this violated the policies and we took it down.”

Facebook on Wednesday took down a page for the “Kenosha Guard” and an event promoted by the page called “Armed Citizens to Protect our Lives” for violating the platform’s policy against militia organizations.

The night before it was removed, during protests over the police shooting of a 29-year-old Black man, Jacob Blake, two people were shot dead and another was injured.

Police have charged Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, in connection with the shooting.

A spokesperson for Facebook told The Hill at the time that there was no evidence that Rittenhouse “followed the Kenosha Guard Page or that he was invited on the Event Page they organized.”

Facebook’s failure to take down a page which asked if “any patriots [are] willing to take up arms and defend our city tonight from the evil thugs?” before violence happened falls into a predictable and dangerous pattern for the platform, according to Color of Change’s president Rashad Robinson.

“They are never ready for these things,” the head of the civil rights advocacy group told The Hill in an interview. “You’re telling me that they just weren’t ready for this idea of a white nationalist militia rising up?”

Color of Change, along with several other civil rights groups, has been escalating its criticism of Facebook’s handling of hateful and violent content for months.

The organizations put together an advertising boycott that hundreds of businesses signed onto, and have had several discussions with the platform’s leadership concerning concrete steps they say it should take.

Issues with dealing with this content were also highlighted in an independent civil rights audit released last month, which criticized Facebook for failing to develop a mechanism for protecting civil rights and for a hands-off approach when it comes to free speech, even in cases of violent posts.

Internal criticism of Facebook leadership’s approach to violence fomented on its platform has also grown, especially after the platform left up a post from President Trump saying that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” in response to protests over the police killing of George Floyd.

Multiple employees have been publicly critical of Zuckerberg. BuzzFeed News reported that during Friday’s employee Q&A, staffers questioned the CEO’s decision-making and approach to violent content.

“At what point do we take responsibility for enabling hate filled bile to spread across our services?” one employee reportedly wrote in the live chat. “[A]nti semitism, conspiracy, and white supremacy reeks across our services.”

Facebook has taken some steps to address hateful and dangerous groups on its platform.

Earlier this month, it expanded its policy on violent rhetoric to crackdown on groups affiliated with the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory as well as militia and anarchist groups. 

For Robinson, those changes miss the heart of the problem.

Facebook needs to change the “incentive structures inside their platform,” he said, hitting the company for prioritizing profit over safety.

Tags Black Lives Matter Donald Trump Facebook George Floyd protests Jacob Blake shooting Mark Zuckerberg racial justice Wisconsin

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