Mark Zuckerberg has warned there is a “significant risk of civil unrest” in the lead up to and following the US Election in November, as a “militia” group is removed from the platform following the alleged shooting deaths of two protesters in Wisconsin.
Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, has been charged with homicide after allegedly opening fire on people protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake, who was shot seven times in the back in front of his children by officer Rusten Sheskey.
Mr Blake has survived but will likely spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
Two people allegedly shot by Rittenhouse at a protest died and a third was injured.
The protests are part of the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, which less than year ago Mr Zuckerberg said “just wouldn’t have been possible” without the platform he built to rank women by attractiveness.
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A Facebook page called Kenosha Guard was brought to the company’s attention prior to the shootings after hundreds of people reported an event it created that they thought was inciting or could lead to violence like the type that ultimately eventuated.
At least 455 reports were filed, accounting for 66 per cent of all event reports from the day, and Facebook moderators cleared it four times according to Buzzfeed News.
But those moderators weren’t adequately trained to realise the group violated company policies, according to the man in charge of both.
In a video sent to Facebook staff and later posted on his own Facebook page, founder Mark Zuckerberg said an “operational mistake” was behind the lack of action taken about Kenosha Guard, which violated the company’s policies by being a militia group like the type recently banned.
Mr Zuckerberg said it wasn’t until the more qualified investigators took over — after two people died — that the page was found to violate Facebook’s policies.
“The team that enforces our policy against dangerous organisations is a specialised team that is trained to look for symbolism and innuendo and different things that require a significant amount of training in some of these cases to understand the details or the nuances of how certain militias or certain conspiracy networks and other dangerous networks operate,” Mr Zuckerberg said.
“The contractors and the reviewers who the initial complaints were funnelled to basically didn’t pick this up.
“On second review, the team that’s responsible for dangerous organisations recognised that this violated the policies and we took it down,” Mr Zuckerberg said.
Mr Zuckerberg said that Rittenhouse’ page and posts praising his alleged actions were being removed as the event had been deemed a mass shooting, but the decision to take down Kenosha Guard was purely for the policy breach and not because any link had been found between the two.
“A lot of people are concerned there might have been connections between this guy and the Facebook page and event for the Kenosha Guard, a Wisconsin based militia organisation,” Mr Zuckerberg said in the video.
“At this point we haven’t found any evidence the [alleged] shooter was connected to the event or invited to the event in any way so it doesn’t really seem like there is any direct connection between this militia organisation and the [alleged] shooter,” Mr Zuckerberg said.
“But separate from the shooting, this page and the militia violated this new policy we put in place a couple weeks ago that included QAnon and other militia groups that we were worried could be trying to organise violence: Now in this volatile period, especially as we get closer to the election, and after the election when I think there is a significant risk of civil unrest as well.
“The page violated our policies.”
Mr Zuckerberg said the incident was “deeply troubling” and “the juxtaposition of seeing Jacob Blake facing away from the police and being shot, next to these images of this white kid with a long gun strapped to his body walking by the police with nothing happening … symbolises what we all feel is wrong and unjust and just how much progress still needs to be made”.
It’s also a potentially fitting metaphor for Mr Zuckerberg’s leadership at Facebook, a company under siege from people urging it to do something to stop the spread of hatred and misinformation, and now real world violence.
Employees are turning against the company, increasingly leaking information to the press after growing frustrated with a lack of action.
Buzzfeed News reporter Ryan Mac was recently leaked information about the leaks themselves after a Facebook communications worker begged other employees to stop making their job so hard.
In May, the Wall Street Journal reported an internal presentation to senior Facebook executives in 2018 warned “our algorithm exploits the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness”, advice that was swiftly ignored.
Following the company’s “operational mistake” that meant it didn’t enforce its own policies against militia groups, Mr Zuckerberg said Facebook is going to “continue to enforce [its] policies” and “improve [its] execution”.