Facebook said Tuesday that for the first time it had removed a handful of pages dedicated to the QAnon conspiracy theory for violating the same rules against fake personas and inauthentic behavior used by government influence operations.
Facebook removed five pages with titles like @RealQAnon41020, @RealTrumpQAnon and @AAnonTees. Around 133,000 accounts followed at least one of them, the company said.
QAnon is a conspiracy theory in which adherents believe President Donald Trump is running a secret war to rid the U.S. government of a group of child-eating cannibals, which includes some of the president's political enemies.
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The pages that were removed are only a fraction of the reach of other QAnon groups and pages on Facebook, however, reflecting the difficulty of moderating content tied to extremism that doesn't necessarily violate Facebook's policies.
Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, stressed that the company removed only the content that violated its specific rules against coordinated inauthentic behavior, in which multiple accounts act in tandem and obscure their identities to push content.
Facebook created the rules in response to heavy criticism that it did little to stop Russia's Internet Research Agency, the "troll factory" that created an army of false personas to influence voters in the 2016 election.
"From my perspective, we have a very clear behavioral line," Gleicher said. "Whenever an actor crosses that line, we're going to take consistent enforcement."
A study by the social media monitoring firm Graphika, published alongside Facebook's announcement, found that the QAnon pages were egregiously coordinated, repeatedly posting the same links and text at the same time. The pages shared a number of administrators and were followed by many accounts that seemed to be slight variations of the same few names and profile pictures.
Last week, a QAnon supporter carrying 18 knives was arrested in New York City and accused of threatening Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. QAnon, which began on the extremist message boards 4chan and 8chan, has been tied to several real-life crimes and one murder in the recent past.