Facebook removes Trump's 'Stop the Steal' rallying cry ahead of Joe Biden's inauguration

Jessica Guynn, USA TODAY
·3 min read

Facebook is cracking down on the "Stop the Steal" rallying cry in an emergency move to head off potential violence before Donald Trump leaves office and Joe Biden is sworn in to take his place.

“We are now removing content containing the phrase ‘stop the steal,’" on Facebook and Instagram, the company said in a blog post.

The phrase refers to the president's baseless charges that the presidential election that he decisively lost was rigged. His supporters proclaimed Jan. 6 as the day to convene in Washington to “save America” and “stop the steal” of the election.

“We’ve been allowing robust conversations related to the election outcome and that will continue. But with continued attempts to organize events against the outcome of the US presidential election that can lead to violence, and use of the 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.

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The company has already removed “a significant number” of posts and plans to quickly remove more, it said.

Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg on Monday claimed that the attack on the U.S. Capitol last week was largely organized on other platforms.

“We again took down QAnon, Proud Boys, Stop the Steal, anything that was talking about possible violence last week,” Sandberg said in a live-streamed interview with Reuters. “Our enforcement is never perfect, so I’m sure there were still things on Facebook. I think these events were largely organized on platforms that don’t have our abilities to stop hate, don’t have our standards and don’t have our transparency.”

The "Stop the Steal" hashtag took off the day after the presidential election. The first Stop the Steal group was formed on Facebook on Nov. 4 and quickly ballooned, reaching 320,000 members before Facebook shut it down.

Stop the Steal groups proliferated even after Facebook began closing them down, prompting Trump supporters to migrate to less restrictive platforms such as Parler as they organized last week's Washington rally.

A Stop The Steal is posted inside of the Capitol Building after a pro-Trump mob broke into the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.
A Stop The Steal is posted inside of the Capitol Building after a pro-Trump mob broke into the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Sandberg’s comments follow Facebook's decision to suspend President Donald Trump for an indefinite period but at least until President-elect Joe Biden takes office. Late Friday, Twitter permanently suspended Trump's account.

“We have no plans to lift it,” Sandberg said of Facebook's suspension. “This showed that even a president is not above the policies we have.”

While the nation's leading social media companies moved against the commander in chief, they had not yet eradicated content that incited last week's violence at the Capitol.

BuzzFeed News reported Monday that a search on Facebook for "Stop the Steal" turned up dozens of places where new plots could be coordinated. The news outlet found at least 66 groups dedicated to the slogan, the largest of which had over 14,000 members. However, a subsequent search by USA TODAY turned up zero results for pages and groups, an early indication that Facebook was rooting out and removing all references.

Facebook also announced Monday that it plans to live stream Biden's inauguration. After Biden takes office, Facebook said it will place labels on any posts attempting to delegitimize the election.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Facebook cracks down on Stop the Steal before Joe Biden's inauguration