Over 200 militia groups and users are using Facebook to organize nationwide, new report states

Despite bans, most of this extremism has gone unmanaged by Meta.

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Facebook is a hotbed for conspiracy theories and dangerous organizing at critical moments, like the 650,000-plus posts arguing against President Biden's victory between the 2020 general election and the January 6 insurrection. Some users scattered following the latter and subsequent prosecutions, but a new report first published by Wired shows a resurgence, identifying about 200 groups and profiles across the platform organizing militia activity nationwide.

The research, conducted by the Tech Transparency Project, found these groups have ties to organizations such as the Three Percenters militia network, dubbed by Meta as an "armed militia group" in its 2021 Dangerous Individuals and Organizations List. Yet, groups such as the Free American Army have urged users to join their local militia or the Three Percenters without consequence (Meta took down the Free American Army group only after Wired enquired about it, calling Facebook an "adversarial space" that requires regular investment to stay safe).

Katie Paul, director of the Tech Transparency Project, has watched hundreds of these groups and people since 2021 and has seen an increased seriousness and focus on organizing over the previous year. "Many of these groups are no longer fractured sets of localized militia but coalitions formed between multiple militia groups, many with Three Percenters at the helm," Paul told Wired. "Facebook remains the largest gathering place for extremists and militia movements to cast a wide net and funnel users to more private chats, including on the platform, where they can plan and coordinate with impunity."

The Tech Transparency Project found users seek out "active patriots" to discuss anti-government ideology, attend meetings and take combat training. The latter lends itself to a common theme: being prepared for standing up against or even going to war against enemies such as drag queens, pro-Palestine college students and the government itself.

Take a recent post by the administrator of a group called the Pennsylvania Light Foot, which has over 1,000 members: "In light of the violence and uncertainty in the world, Covid 19 shortages, civil unrest, and potential for terrorist attacks and natural calamity, we exist to equip our members. Our aim is to equip them with the ability to defend themselves, whether it be a mugger on the street or foreign soldier on our lawn." These sentiments are echoed by other extremist organizers across Facebook.

Meta has attempted to at least create a facade of action and transparency. In 2019, it launched the Oversight Board as an independent reviewer of its content moderation. While the entity has pointed to Facebook's role in dangerous election rhetoric, including incidents outside the United States, critics argue it hasn't been impactful enough. Now, The Washington Post reports that layoffs at the Oversight Board could be imminent.

On August 14, Meta will shutter CrowdTangle, a tool it bought in 2016 that allowed journalists and academics to see how conspiracy theories and false information moved on Facebook and its sister site Instagram — often showcasing the platforms' shortcomings. The company is replacing it with the Meta Content Library, which not only appears to be less detailed but isn't available to for-profit news organizations.