Facebook took down a widespread network of pages tied to President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Stephen Bannon for pushing misinformation about voter fraud and delegitimising election results.
Bannon’s page also incurred penalties, including not being allowed to post content, but was not removed from Facebook.
The seven pages, which had a total of more than 2.45 million followers and had pushed the “Stop the Steal” messaging that alleges election fraud, were flagged for Facebook by the liberal group Avaaz on Friday night.
The move comes just days after Bannon was permanently banned from Twitter after saying that Trump should execute Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert. Facebook had also removed two videos from his page for inciting violence.
“We’ve removed several clusters of activity for using inauthentic behaviour tactics to artificially boost how many people saw their content,” said Facebook spokesman Andy Stone. “That includes a Group that was originally named ‘Stop the Steal’ which later became ‘Gay Communists for Socialism’ and misled people about its purpose using deceptive tactics.”
Bannon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Social platforms have taken unprecedented steps to police misinformation in the chaotic aftermath of the election, but numerous problematic groups have still gained large followings. 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.
In an interview, Avaaz analysts said they noticed the pages were interconnected in a way that raised red flags. They tended to post content at exactly the same time, for example. Some of the pages shared an administrator – often Bannon and Kolfage. Some of the pages included links to a Bannon-affiliated website called Populist Press, which included stories that have been debunked by fact-checkers.
“In 2016, Steve Bannon was buoyed by the Facebook algorithm and helped define the political narrative for millions of Americans,” Fadi Quran, campaign director at Avaaz, said in a statement. “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?”