Facebook removes hundreds of QAnon groups, citing public safety risks

WION Web Team
New York, New York, United States of America Published: Aug 20, 2020, 07:46 AM(IST)

Facebook Photograph:( AFP )

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The moves, which were made across both Facebook and Instagram, were against accounts tied to "offline anarchist groups that support violent acts amidst protests, US-based militia organisations and QAnon," the social media platform said in a blog post.

Facebook Inc has removed nearly 800 QAnon conspiracy groups for posts celebrating violence, showing intent to use weapons, or attracting followers with patterns of violent behaviour.

The world's biggest social network, saying it was expanding its policy on perceived risks to public safety, also imposed restrictions on the remaining 1,950 public and private QAnon groups it could find. It will no longer recommend them to users and make them less likely to be discovered in searches.

The moves, which were made across both Facebook and Instagram, were against accounts tied to "offline anarchist groups that support violent acts amidst protests, US-based militia organisations and QAnon," the social media platform said in a blog post.

Hundreds of thousands of Facebook users are known to belong to one or more QAnon groups, but Facebook declined to give more precise figures.

More than 790 groups, 100 pages, and 1,500 ads tied to QAnon were pulled from Facebook and more than 300 hashtags were blocked across the social network and Instagram, according to the post.

In addition, restrictions were placed on more than 1,950 groups and 440 pages on Facebook and more than 10,000 Instagram accounts, the social network said.

During a press briefing Wednesday US President Donald Trump told reporters: "I don't know much about the movement. I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate."

"I've heard these are people that love our country," he added.

Facebook also removed 980 groups that it said encouraged rioting, a majority seen as generally right-wing militias but a substantial number identified as part of the leftist antifa movement.

The social network already bans content calling for violence and organisations that proclaim violent missions.

The platform has seen growth in movements that celebrate violence or weapons and hint at using them but stop short of directly organizing any action, Facebook said.

Under the updated policy, Facebook aims to limit the spread of violating content and remove pages, groups and accounts hosting discussion of potential violence, even if veiled language and symbols are used to do so.

"These movements and groups evolve quickly, and our teams will follow them closely and consult with outside experts so we can continue to enforce our policies against them," Facebook said.

Twitter in July cracked down on QAnon as the loose-knit group increased its reach into the mainstream of US politics.

From an anonymous 2017 posting claiming bizarre child exploitation and deep state plots, the headless and bodiless movement has earned a place in Trump's Twitter stream.

Twitter's decision to shut down some 7,000 accounts pushing QAnon material came amid rising concerns that the movement could spawn violence.

The FBI last year said in a report that QAnon was one of several movements that could drive "both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts."

The long-anticipated takedowns come amid sustained criticism as QAnon activity has surged on Facebook this year. Twitter previously removed thousands of QAnon accounts.

QAnon began in the aftermath of the false “pizzagate” conspiracy that claimed, ahead of the 2016 presidential election, that prominent Democrats were running a pedophile ring out of the basement of a Washington restaurant.

It centres on anonymous postings from someone using the nickname Q who claims to be a high official in the administration of President Donald Trump. Q and his most-followed supporters idolize Trump and have asserted that Democratic and Hollywood elites worship the devil, eat children, and in some cases have already been executed after secret military tribunals and replaced by actors.

A vocal QAnon supporter last week won the Republican congressional primary in a conservative Georgia district, drawing praise from Trump, who has declined to disavow the movement.

Asked Wednesday about the QAnon belief that he was saving the world from satanic cannibals, Trump said: "Is that supposed to be a bad thing? We are saving the world, from a radical left philosophy."

The FBI identifies QAnon as a potential source of domestic violence, and some of its followers have been charged with murder and kidnapping.

Facebook has long considered some organizations to be inherently dangerous and banned them, and some critics had urged the company to do the same with QAnon.

"Taking down groups and pages, restricting others, and banning hashtags is a step, but an insufficient one," said Cindy Otis, a former CIA analyst with a new book on misinformation.

A Facebook spokeswoman acknowledged that QAnon followers would start new groups with new code words, and that the attempt to restrain them would be an ongoing battle.

(with inputs from agencies)

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