Facebook is cracking down on Facebook Groups, popular forums for shared interests like parenting, cooking and gardening that have been implicated in the viral spread of harmful misinformation, from false claims of election fraud that led to the Capitol riot to the QAnon conspiracy theory and vaccine hoaxes.
Repeat offenders, groups or individuals, will face escalating penalties and, if the conduct is egregious, could be instantly removed, the company warned Wednesday.
The announcement comes before next week’s House Committee on Energy and Commerce where CEO Mark Zuckerberg is slated to testify alongside Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai on misinformation and disinformation.
“Groups and members that violate our rules should have reduced privileges and reach, with restrictions getting more severe as they accrue more violations, until we remove them completely,” Tom Alison, vice president of engineering, said in a blog post. “And when necessary in cases of severe harm, we will outright remove groups and people without these steps in between.”
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An initiative embraced in 2017 by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Groups were designed to be private or public communal areas where people could gather over common interests or challenges.
More recently Facebook began pushing content from groups users don’t belong to, but thought they might be interested in.
Today, groups touch the lives of most users, with more than half of the 2.8 billion people who regularly use the social media platform belonging to at least five.
But noxious content bubbling up in large and influential groups like “Stop the Steal,” used to organize the Capitol riot, and anti-vaccine groups used to sow doubt over the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine, has gone viral with real-world consequences.
Facebook will punish Facebook Groups and group members for repeatedly violating its Community Standards, the company said Wednesday. (Photo: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD, AFP via Getty Images)
Facebook stopped recommending political groups shortly before the November election and made that policy change permanent in January.
“As behaviors evolve on our platform,” Alison said, “we recognize we need to do more.”
When a group begins to break the rules, Facebook will show that group lower in recommendations so fewer people can discover it.
Facebook will limit notifications so people are less likely to join and new members will be warned that the group has been flagged for violations when they join. Content from the group will be pushed down in News Feed for existing members.
Administrators or moderators of groups with a large number of members who’ve broken the rules or who were part of other groups that were removed for breaking the rules will temporarily have to approve all posts.
“This means that content won’t be shown to the wider group until an admin or moderator reviews and approves it. If an admin or moderator repeatedly approves content that breaks our rules, we’ll take the entire group down,” Alison said.
If a group member racks up repeated violations, Facebook will block them from being able to post or comment in any group “for a period of time.” They also won’t be able to invite others to any groups, and won’t be able to create new groups.
“These measures are intended to help slow down the reach of those looking to use our platform for harmful purposes and build on existing restrictions we’ve put in place over the last year,” Alison said.
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