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Facebook to take down false reports of antifa arson in Oregon

The rumors apparently inspired some Oregonians to set up checkpoints.
Image: An attendee takes a photograph of a sign during Facebook Inc's F8 developers conference in San Jose, California
An attendee at a Facebook conference in San Jose, California, last year.Stephen Lam / Reuters file

Facebook said Saturday it would take down erroneous posts claiming anti-fascist activists have been maliciously sparking wildfires in Oregon and other Western states.

The announcement came after multiple organizations, including the Douglas County Sheriff's Office in Oregon, issued warnings on social media about the false rumors, and another sheriff's department placed a deputy on leave after he was seen on video suggesting fires were being started by antifa adherents.

There is no evidence Oregon's fires were caused by arson from far-left activists.

"We are removing false claims that the wildfires in Oregon were started by certain groups," Facebook spokesman Andy Stone tweeted. "This is based on confirmation from law enforcement that these rumors are forcing local fire and police agencies to divert resources from fighting the fires and protecting the public."

The Clackamas County Sheriff's deputy placed on administrative leave Saturday had been tasked with "ensuring that residents knew of the wildfire hazards" when he was captured on video speaking about arson fires, officials said.

Sheriff Craig Roberts apologized for the unidentified deputy's alleged actions.

"The Sheriff's Office mission is to provide calm and safety especially during unprecedented times such as these," he said in a statement. "I expect nothing less of our deputies, and apologize to all in our community."

Authorities have arrested one person, Michael Bakkela, 41, in connection with one of Oregon's 38 actives wildfires, which have caused at least 10 deaths. He is accused of sparking up brush as the Almeda Fire in Phoenix, Oregon, was already burning, Jackson County Sheriff's officials said Friday.

Oregon's fires have charred more than 879,000 acres, according to state data.

Authorities have also had to contend with residents setting up road blocks in Multnomah County, where sheriff's deputies have urged residents to leave the law enforcement up to them.

"Deputies have contacted several groups of residents in Corbett who have set up checkpoints and are stopping cars," the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office tweeted Friday night. "While we understand their intent is to keep the community safe, it is never legal to block a public roadway or force other citizens to stop."

The Douglas County Sheriff's Office has issued warnings about false rumors swirling on social media.

"Rumors spread just like wildfire and now our 9-1-1 dispatchers and professional staff are being overrun with requests for information and inquiries on an UNTRUE rumor that 6 Antifa members have been arrested for setting fires in DOUGLAS COUNTY, OREGON," the office said on Facebook Saturday.

"THIS IS NOT TRUE!," it continued. "Unfortunately, people are spreading this rumor and it is causing problems."

A firefighters union in Washington said on Facebook recently that the platform was "an absolute cesspool of misinformation right now."

Facebook's Stone said the effort to remove such content could save lives.

"This is consistent with our past efforts to remove content that could lead to imminent harm given the possible risk to human life as the fires rage on," he said.

Phil Helsel contributed.