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Some pro-Trump extremists used Facebook to plan Capitol attack, report finds

Private Facebook groups spent months advising one another about how to "take down" the government, says a report from the nonprofit Tech Transparency Project.
Image: Trump Supporters Hold \"Stop The Steal\" Rally In DC Amid Ratification Of Presidential Election
Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol after a rally with President Donald Trump on Jan. 6.Samuel Corum / Getty Images

A number of pro-Trump extremists used Facebook to plan their attack on the U.S. Capitol, a watchdog organization has found, contradicting claims by Facebook's leadership that such planning was largely done on other sites.

Private Facebook groups spent months advising one another about how to "take down" the U.S. government, particularly after Joe Biden was elected president, according to a report from the nonprofit Tech Transparency Project, which tracked several of them.

Many of the groups specifically talked about traveling to the Capitol on Jan. 6, the date Congress counted the electoral votes that affirmed Biden's victory.

"Calls to 'occupy Congress' were rampant on Facebook in the weeks leading up to the deadly Capitol riot, making no secret of the event's aims," the report found. "Two different 'occupy' event listings were written in a Nazi-style font and began circulating on Facebook in December."

A sample recruitment call by a page called "Florida Patriots" said, "We are actively seeking well armed citizens to join our emergency response unit in all zones."

BuzzFeed News first reported the research.

More than 100 people have been charged with crimes related to the storming of the Capitol, and the FBI has received more than 200,000 digital tips.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, said in an interview with Reuters after the riot that the company bore little blame.

"I think these events were largely organized on platforms that don't have our abilities to stop hate, don't have our standards and don't have our transparency," she said in a video interview Jan. 11.

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Facebook had taken down far-right content ahead of time, including about 350,000 profiles, particularly if it advertised the slogan "Stop the Steal." But even after the purge, a number of smaller groups that used the slogan were still visible on the site.

Sarah Pollack, a spokesperson for Facebook, said the company is proactive in trying to prevent the platform from being used for additional violence ahead of Biden's inauguration.

"In the lead-up to January 6th, our teams were vigilant in removing content that violated our policies against inciting violence and dangerous organizations," Pollack said in an emailed statement.

"Given the risk of further violence, we've taken additional emergency measures ahead of this week's inauguration, including suspending President Trump's accounts indefinitely," she said.

CORRECTION (Jan. 21, 2021, 1:40 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the name of the organization that wrote the report about Capitol rioters organizing on Facebook. It is the Tech Transparency Project, not the Tech Transparency Group.