Facebook Quashed Attempt to Launch GOP-Alternative Patriot Party After 1/6

Facebook worked to actively suppress an online campaign by a political movement positioning itself as an alternative to the Republican Party following the deadly Capitol riot on January 6.

The social media giant sought to quash the Patriot Party and appears to have been successful in the attempt, according to internal company documents seen by The Wall Street Journal.

The Patriot Party is a loosely affiliated movement consisting of people who believed former President Donald Trump's unfounded claim that the 2020 presidential election had been "stolen" from him.

Following the January 6 Capitol riot, Facebook, along with other social media sites, sought to suppress groups like the Patriot Party on their platform.

The company's employees monitored the Patriot Party's growth on Facebook, while the site's automated systems found that discussions about the proposed movement disproportionately featured hate speech and incitement.

According to The Wall Street Journal's report, Facebook took an "ad hoc" approach to making decisions regarding groups that it considered dangerous. The newspaper described this approach as "in essence playing whack-a-mole."

The social media site's engineers made it more difficult for Patriot Party organizers to share the movement's content and restricted the visibility of some of the groups involved. Facebook also limited so-called "super inviters" to prevent them from recruiting others.

One memo seen by the Journal said: "We were able to nip terms like Patriot Party in the bud before mass adoption."

Facebook performed experiments and studies to assess the spread of content the company deemed problematic and following the Capitol riot, they studied a data set of more than 700,000 supporters of the "Stop the Steal" movement. Supporters of that movement are also motivated by unfounded claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Based on its studies, Facebook hoped it could stop "harmful topic communities" in the future and direct so-called "susceptible users" to content that was not deemed harmful.

Facebook's approach to the Patriot Party appears to have been successful enough for the social media site to apply a similar strategy to a German anti-lockdown movement called Querdenken. In April, some of the same employees involved in quashing the Patriot Party were also tasked with an experiment regarding the suppression of Querdenken.

Facebook spokesman Drew Pusateri told the Journal: "To find those solutions, we've had to invent new technologies and balance difficult trade-offs that society has struggled with for a long time, and without needed guidance from lawmakers and regulators.

"We know our solutions will never be perfect, but stories like these exist precisely because we confronted our toughest problems head-on," he said.

Crowds Attend a Stop the Steal Rally
Crowds gather outside the U.S. Capitol for the "Stop the Steal" rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Facebook worked to quash a movement consisting of those who believed in unfounded claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images