Events and groups denying the defeat of outgoing United States President Donald Trump continue to fester on Facebook in November 2020 — despite the platform taking action following a report by activist group Avaaz.
We discovered at least one group calling itself “Stop the Steal” — the same name as a set of Facebook pages connected to propagandist and former White House operative Stephen Bannon that were removed earlier in the month. As the Washington Post reported:
Last week, “Stop the Steal” groups rapidly gained hundreds of thousands of members and pushed related events protesting election outcomes, before Facebook banned one large group for inciting violence.
The pages taken down include those of Brian Kolfage, Conservative Values, We Build the Wall Inc., Citizens of the American Republic, American Joe and Trump at War.
Kolfage is a longtime Bannon ally. He was indicted with Bannon and two others in August for allegedly defrauding donors to a crowdfunded effort to build a private U.S.-Mexico border wall.
The groups were removed after Avaaz brought them to Facebook’s attention.
“In 2016, Steve Bannon was buoyed by the Facebook algorithm and helped define the political narrative for millions of Americans,” Avaaz campaign director Fadi Quran told the newspaper, adding:
Over the last few months, pages and groups connected to him pushed ‘voter fraud’ and other misinformation content to millions. Now, he is seeking to further divide America and spread chaos in this post-Election Day landscape, again using Facebook. Facebook has finally acted after Avaaz’s pressure, but the question is: Why did the company not act earlier?
We also emailed Quran for comment, who expanded on the criticism:
Our investigation into “Stop the Steal” disinformation on the platform points to an organized effort to erode trust in democracy and sow chaos across the US. Facebook can and must do more to detox its algorithm to ensure it is not weaponized against democracy.
The problem is getting worse, particularly in private groups. As of November 11, the combined membership of 50 public groups is 174,937. The combined membership of 51 private groups is 434,070. In the last 24 hours (11/10-11/11), the combined membership of all 50 public groups grew from 159,500 to 174,837 (9.6%), while the combined membership of all 51 private groups increased from 347,298 to 434,070 (25%).
Following that removal, though, the Real Facebook Oversight Board — a group of researchers and activists who organized to monitor the platform independently — found examples of other groups who were formed based on the wrongful argument that Trump’s decisive loss to President-Elect Joe Biden in the 2020 U.S. presidential election was fraudulent:
Clearly this network has not been dismantled ⬇️
— The Real Facebook Oversight Board (@FBoversight) November 11, 2020
We contacted Facebook about the latest “Stop the Steal” group, but did not receive a response. This group is also listed as one of the organizers for a “Million MAGA March” Facebook event page claiming to be slated for November 14 2020 in Washington D.C.
Pages for similar events have been created promoting “marches” in not only the same city but also Denver; Honolulu; Springfield, Missouri; and cities in several other states. Throughout 2020, Facebook groups have served as a hub and a recruitment tool for right-wing groups which have been organized inauthentically and promoted via astroturfing and disinformation networks.
As for Bannon, he was indicted in New York state in September 2022 and charged with conspiracy, money laundering, and “scheming to defraud” for allegedly swindling thousands of donors to a campaign raising funds to build a “border wall” between the U.S. and Mexico. Trump had pardoned Bannon just before leaving office in January 2021 on federal charges related to the fundraiser.
The Daily Beast reported that Bannon’s indictment included text messages between Bannon and his collaborators, including one where he ordered one to direct a “wire of cash” to a non-profit he created, Citizens of the American Republic. In another text, Bannon reportedly specified that he would approve any “deals” made by the group.
Update 9/8/2022, 12:23 p.m. PST: Updated to reflect Steve Bannon’s indictment in New York in September 2022. — ag