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Facebook purges 790 QAnon groups as the fringe conspiracy movement keeps growing

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Facebook creates a new rule for groups that may be prone to real-world violence

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Facebook has conducted its biggest purge yet of the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy movement, announcing on Wednesday that it has removed nearly 800 groups related to the topic in its latest moderation sweep.

The removals coincide with a new, broader moderation policy detailed in a blog post published today regarding how Facebook handles borderline violent content, with a specific focus on QAnon and “US-based militia organizations.” Now, the social network says it will be purposefully disabling these groups’ ability to organize on Facebook, but not banning the topics they organize around outright as they often do not call directly for real-world violence.

“We already remove content calling for or advocating violence and we ban organizations and individuals that proclaim a violent mission. However, we have seen growing movements that, while not directly organizing violence, have celebrated violent acts, shown that they have weapons and suggest they will use them, or have individual followers with patterns of violent behavior,” the blog post reads. “While we will allow people to post content that supports these movements and groups, so long as they do not otherwise violate our content policies, we will restrict their ability to organize on our platform.”

Facebook has struggled for years to contain growing online far-right and fringe movements that organize on its platform, often doing so in private groups and therefore unnoticed by Facebook’s lacking moderation and its inconsistent and delayed application of content policies and removal processes.

Yet these efforts have become more strained these past six months as QAnon and US militia-affiliated causes like the Boogaloo movement, a loosely organized group of pro-gun and anti-government groups and individuals advocating for a second Civil War, have swelled during the COVID-19 pandemic and amid widespread unrest and protests throughout the country. Even as Facebook began restricting and removing QAnon groups earlier this year, many more began popping up and growing at a rapid pace.

This is only the platform’s latest action designed to contain QAnon and militia groups, yet it’s by far the largest action Facebook has taken to date. The company says on the main Facebook app, it’s removed 790 groups, 100 Pages and 1,500 ads with links to QAnon. It’s also blocked over 300 hashtags across Facebook and Instagram and restricted 1,950 groups and 440 pages on Facebook and over 10,000 accounts on Instagram. For groups linked to militia organizations and those actively calling for violent insurrection, Facebook says it has removed 980 groups, 520 pages, and 160 ads from Facebook, while also restricting 1,400 hashtags related to these groups and movements on Instagram.

Facebook’s new justification here is that while its “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy” — designed mostly to combat the organizing of groups like terrorist organizations — is typically sufficient in dealing with groups that have “demonstrated significant risks to public safety,” the company needs a new special requirement for groups that “do not meet the rigorous criteria to be designated as a dangerous organization” and therefore do not qualify for a blanket site-wide ban.

In other words, QAnon and US militia movements are both dangerous and may peddle in misinformation and conspiracy theories, but not enough so and not in an organized enough way to warrant be entirely purged from the platform. So you can still talk about them on Facebook via posts and links, but any organized activity is subject to Facebook’s broader application of its rules around fake news, hate speech, and inciting violence and likely to be targeted for removal.