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Facebook removes US hate group accounts pushing armed members to go to protests

Social media giant says deleted around 190 accounts, also on Instagram, tied to right-wing extremists the Proud Boys and the American Guard

By AP

Facebook has removed nearly 200 social media accounts linked to white supremacy groups that planned to encourage members to attend protests over police killings of black people — in some cases with weapons, company officials said Friday.

The accounts on Facebook and Instagram were tied to the Proud Boys and the American Guard, two hate groups already banned on the platforms. Officials were already monitoring the accounts in preparation for removing them when they saw posts attempting to exploit the ongoing protests prompted by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“We saw that these groups were planning to rally supporters and members to physically go to the protests and in some cases were preparing to go with weapons,” said Brian Fishman, Facebook’s director of counterterrorism and dangerous organizations policy.

The company did not divulge details of the account users — such as their specific plans for protests or where in the US they live. It said “approximately” 190 accounts were removed overall.

Both the Proud Boys and American Guard had been banned from Facebook for violating rules prohibiting hate speech. Facebook said it will continue to remove new pages, groups or accounts created by users trying to circumvent the ban.

Earlier this week, Facebook announced the removal of a “handful” of other accounts created by white supremacists who had been posing on Twitter as members of the far-left antifa movement.

The company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg however isn’t budging over his refusal to take action on inflammatory posts by US President Donald Trump that spread misinformation about voting by mail and, many said, encouraged violence against protesters.

Some employees have publicly quit over the issue and civil-rights leaders who met with him Monday night denounced Zuckerberg’s explanation for choosing to leave Trump’s posts alone as “incomprehensible.”

A day after dozens of Facebook employees staged a virtual walkout over the issue, the Facebook chief met Tuesday with employees for a Q&A session held via online video. During that session, which had been moved forward from later in the week, Zuckerberg reportedly doubled down on his stance to leave Trump’s posts alone — although he did suggest that the company was considering changes to its existing policies around “state use of force,” which Trump’s Minneapolis post fell under.

In this Oct. 17, 2019, file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at Georgetown University in Washington (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)

Facebook rival Twitter flagged and demoted a Trump tweet in which he referenced protests over police violence in Minneapolis using the phrase “when the looting starts the shooting starts.” But Facebook let an identical message stand on its service. Zuckerberg explained his reasoning in a Facebook post Friday, a position he has since reiterated several times.

“I know many people are upset that we’ve left the President’s posts up, but our position is that we should enable as much expression as possible unless it will cause imminent risk of specific harms or dangers spelled out in clear policies,” Zuckerberg wrote.

The resignations, which multiple engineers tweeted and posted on LinkedIn and Facebook, also began Tuesday.

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram on Friday blocked a Trump campaign video tribute to George Floyd over a copyright claim, in moves that could add to tensions between social media platforms and the US president.

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