Facebook has placed at least 986 groups on a private list of banned “militarized social movements” according to internal Facebook documents released by The interception. The documents suggest the extent of militias organizing on Facebook – something the company struck in August 2020.
Militarized social movements are part of Facebook’s larger list of “dangerous individuals and organizations.” The interception published a snapshot of in its entirety. The term refers to armed groups that promote armed conflict, as well as groups that support violence or looting during protests; in practice, it apparently consists largely of right-wing militias with some left-wing, anarchist or generally anti-government organizations.
Facebook’s list of “dangerous individuals” also includes white supremacist bands, hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan and branches of Al Qaeda and other global terrorist organizations. Everyone is prohibited from maintaining pages, groups or profiles on the service. In addition, the categories are sorted into levels. Level 1 includes hate and terror groups, and Facebook users cannot express praise or support for them in any form. Level 2 includes “violent non-state actors” such as armed rebels who can only be praised for non-violent activities. Militarized social movements are referred to as Tier 3, which has no comparable limits on how users discuss them.
Facebook noted in October 2020 that it had identified 600 militarized social movements and removed about 2,400 pages and 14,200 groups maintained by them. The company also said it had removed 1,700 pages and 5,600 groups affiliated with QAnon – which is designated as a militarized social movement but is not an organized group.
As The interception notes, the group designations may be unclear. For example, a subset of the violent boogaloo movement is classified as a Tier 1 terrorist organization, while the larger movement is a militarized social movement. The term also includes news media such as the anarchist website It’s going down – which theoretically could have been grouped under the umbrella of “supporting violent acts in the midst of protests”, but is listed as an “armed militia group.”
Facebook has been criticized for both excessive laxity and excessive criminal law enforcement. Most recently, however, it has been examined in general for not disclosing details of its activities to external researchers or decision-makers, making it more difficult to evaluate its moderation strategy.
In statements to The edge, Facebook said it had not previously released the list because publishing too many details could compromise moderation effectiveness.
“This is a space of contradiction, so we try to be as transparent as possible, while prioritizing security, limiting legal risks and preventing groups from circumventing our rules,” said Brian Fishman, police director of terrorism and dangerous organizations.