America "on fire": Facebook watched as Trump ignited hate

On the night of May 28, 2017, hateful and violent Facebook posts began to flood in, shortly after President Donald Trump warned that looters in Minneapolis would face execution.

America "on fire": Facebook watched as Trump ignited hate

Three days had passed since Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer, knelt on George Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes. The 46-year old Black man then lost consciousness and showed no signs of life. The video, which was taken by a witness, has been viewed millions upon millions online. Protests took over Minnesota's largest municipality and were soon spreading across America.

An internal analysis of Trump's post on Floyd's death revealed that hate speech and violence reported on Facebook increased "rapidly".

Trump posted at 9:53 am on May 28th, "These THUGS are disinoring George Floyd's memory and I won’t allow that to happen" via his Facebook and Twitter accounts. "Any difficulty, we will assume control. But, when the looting begins the shooting starts!"

Since then, the former president has been removed from Twitter and Facebook.

The leaked documents from Facebook give a firsthand account of how Trump's posts on social media sparked more anger in a country already divided. There were also reports that hate speech and violence were reported across the platform. Facebook's internal automated controls meant to catch violating posts, determined that Trump's message was in violation of the company's rules against inciting violent speech.

But, the tech giant did not respond to Trump's message.

Online, the next day protests -- some violent -- engulfed almost every U.S. capital city.

"When people think back on the role Facebook played in it, they won’t say Facebook caused, but Facebook was definitely the megaphone," stated Lanier Holt, a communication professor at Ohio State University. "I don’t believe they can escape the fact that they have exacerbated this situation.

Twitter, however, quickly responded to Trump's tweet by covering it with a warning and prohibiting users sharing it.

Facebook's internal discussions were revealed in disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen's legal counsel. The Congress received the redacted versions from a group of news organizations including The Associated Press.

The Wall Street Journal reported previously that Trump was among many high-profile users including celebrities and politicians exempted form some or all of the company’s normal enforcement policies.

The documents show that hate speech and violence reports were mostly restricted to the Minneapolis area after Floyd's passing.

According to the memo published June 5, 2017, "However, following Trump's post of May 28 situations really escalated throughout the country."

Internal analysis shows that there was a fivefold increase in violence reports on Facebook. Meanwhile, hate speech complaints tripled in the days after Trump's posting. False news reports on Facebook doubled. Resharing Trump's message resulted in a "substantial number of hateful, violent comments," which Facebook was able to remove. Some of these comments called for "f---ing the white" and "start shooting these thugs."

"We can clearly see that the whole country was basically on fire" by June 2, according to a Facebook employee. The memo, dated June 5, detailed the rise in hate speech and violence reports.

Facebook claims it is impossible to determine how many hate speech reports were driven either by Trump's post or Floyd's death controversy.

A Facebook spokesperson stated that the spike in user reports was due to a crucial moment in history for racial justice movements -- not from any single Donald Trump post. "Facebook is often reflective of what's going on in society. The only way to stop spikes in user report during these moments is not to allow them to be discussed anywhere on our platform. This is something that we would never do."

However, the internal findings raise questions about Mark Zuckerberg's public statements last year in which he defend his decision to remove Trump from his post.

On May 29, Zuckerberg stated that the company had examined Trump's statements to determine if they violated any policies. Zuckerberg said that he removed the post because it warned of Trump's plans to deploy troops.

Zuckerberg posted the following message on Facebook night May 29th: "I know that many people are upset that President Trump's posts have been left up. But our position is that it should allow as much expression as we can unless it will cause an imminent risk of specific harms and dangers spelled forth in clear policies."

However, Facebook's automated enforcement controls found that the post was likely to be in violation of the rules.

The June 5 analysis stated that "Our violence-incitement classifier was almost 90 percent certain that this (Trump's) post violated Facebook’s... policy."

This contradicts conversations Zuckerberg had last year with civil rights leaders to calm concerns that Trump's post was an imminent threat to Black protestors of Floyd's death. Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, is a civil rights advocacy organization. In the weeks that followed Trump's post, the group led a boycott against Facebook.

Robinson stated that he had a direct dispute with Zuckerberg after the post. He gaslit me days later and he specifically resisted any suggestion that this was against their rules.

A Facebook spokesperson stated that Facebook's internal controls don't always accurately predict when a post will violate rules, and that humans review, as was done with Trump's post in this case, is more accurate.

Facebook employees suggested that Facebook limit the number of reshares for similar posts in order to curb the ex-president from inciting hateful reactions on the platform.

Trump used his Facebook account to keep his supporters going throughout his presidency. It has more than 32million followers. Trump's false claims of widespread voter fraud were promoted in the days leading to the deadly Washington siege on Jan. 6. This prompted hundreds of Trump supporters to storm the Capitol to demand that fair elections be overturned.

Facebook suspended Trump's account until at least 2023, just after the Capitol Riot.

Jennifer Mercieca, a Texas A&M University professor who studied the rhetoric of former President Barack Obama, stated that there was a reason Facebook took so long to act.

Mercieca stated that Trump and Trump's ability "really benefited Facebook from Trump's ability draw attention and engage through outrage." They wanted Trump to continue."

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