Facebook targets ‘stop the steal’ content and says Trump ban may be permanent

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Facebook is cracking down on content using the phrase “stop the steal”, the rallying cry of Donald Trump supporters who claim without evidence that there was voter fraud in the 2020 elections.

Content supporting the “stop the steal” movement will be removed from the platform, while posts containing the phrase to either condemn it or discuss the topic neutrally will be allowed to remain.

The policy change is the latest effort to target misinformation and the incitement of violence on Facebook, after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building on Wednesday. Social media platforms such as Facebook have traditionally taken a light touch to policing speech posted by politicians, maintaining that people have a right to see statements from their leaders.

But following the riot, social media platforms including Facebook removed Trump’s account and tightened enforcement around misinformation policies.

“With continued attempts to organize events against the outcome of the US presidential election that can lead to violence, and use of the [“stop the steal”] term by those involved in Wednesday’s violence in DC, we’re taking this additional step in the lead-up to the inauguration,” Facebook said in a blog post.

On Monday, Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, said that Trump’s account will be suspended until at least the inauguration and perhaps longer. Sandberg, speaking to Reuters, said the company has no plans to lift its block on Trump’s accounts and that she was “glad” that Facebook had taken the action.

“This shows the president is not above the policies we have,” Sandberg said.

Meanwhile, Twitter permanently banned the president on Friday. The company also said Monday it will continue its ban of political advertising in the US, including any ads paid for by Trump or his allies.

Social media companies have rushed to limit the president’s posts following the violence last week. Trump has been banned from Twitter and removed from Facebook, Reddit, YouTube, Pinterest, and TikTok. The efforts follow years of false and hateful claims by the president on social media, with many denouncing the heavy-handed crackdown as too little, too late.

On Monday, the home exercise company Peloton announced it will also be banning the hashtag #stopthesteal from being used. Alternative social platforms more sympathetic to Trump such as Parler are facing more widespread action. Amazon announced it would suspend Parler from AWS, its hosting service. Parler was also booted from the app store on both Apple and Google devices.

Meanwhile, Twitter has been increasing its enforcement of policies to protect its service from “attempts to incite violence, organize attacks, and share deliberately misleading information about the election outcome”.

This includes content relating to QAnon, an unsubstantiated pro-Trump conspiracy theory. Since Friday, Twitter says it had removed 70,000 accounts that were primarily dedicated to QAnon. This comes after the platform banned accounts of a number of prominent QAnon influencers following the insurrection on Wednesday.

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