Sheryl Sandberg Criticized for Downplaying Facebook's Role in U.S. Capitol Riots

Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, has provoked criticism after attempting to downplay the role that the social network had in last week's riots at the U.S. Capitol building.

Five people lost their lives in the violence, which was instigated by supporters of Donald Trump following the March for America protest organized and coordinated on an array of social networks, including Facebook, Facebook-owned Instagram and Twitter.

Trump, who called the rioters "very special" as the chaos was unfolding, was subsequently banned from all three platforms, over fears that he would use his social media accounts to attempt to incite further violence.

Parler, the self-proclaimed "free speech" social network that's largely favored by right-wingers and conspiracy theorists due to its reluctance to moderate offensive and extreme content, was blacklisted by Amazon, Apple and Google in the wake of the riots because of the role it is perceived to have played in the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

According to media analytics company Zignal Labs, the term "Storm the Capitol" was mentioned 100,000 times on social media in the 30 days preceding the January 6 riots, with many of the posts also containing details about how to enter the building.

Sandberg told Reuters on Monday: "I think these events were largely organized on platforms that don't have our abilities to stop hate and don't have our standards and don't have our transparency."

Sandberg said: "We know this was organized online, we know that. We again took down QAnon, Proud Boys, 'Stop the Steal', anything that was talking about possible violence last week."

She continued: "Our enforcement's never perfect, so I'm sure there were still things on Facebook," adding that "a lot of these groups that were organizing have been on Facebook, and praising them, has been on Facebook for a long time."

The site on Monday announced that it had introduced a ban on content containing the phrase "stop the steal," which has become a rallying cry for Trump supporters who falsely believe the Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election. But Facebook users have pointed out that posts containing the phrase are still very easy to find on the platform.

Facebook told Newsweek via email: "It will take some time to scale up our enforcement of this new step but we have already removed a significant number of posts."

People also criticized Sandberg for distancing Facebook from the riots.

In the interview, Sandberg also said Facebook has "no plans to lift [its ban on Donald Trump in force until president-elect Joe Biden's inauguration] right now."

Referring to Facebook's Trump ban, Sandberg added: "There's obviously so much happening and this is such a big step. We will definitely let people know and be very transparent about any changes to that."

This article was updated with comment from Facebook.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is pictured at the Knight Center on December 18, 2018 in Miami, Florida. Sandberg has attempted to distance Facebook from last week's U.S. Capitol riots. Joe Raedle/Getty Images