Facebook should have jettisoned a vigilante group from its social media platform earlier as members used it to organize an armed militia to confront protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg conceded at a meeting with employees.
The lag was “largely an operational mistake,” Zuckerberg told workers in a live video Thursday that was later posted on Facebook. (Check it out above.) The company has been criticized for not reacting quickly and possibly saving the two lives.
A possible vigilante recruit and Donald Trump supporter, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, has been charged with homicide in the shooting deaths of two demonstrators and the wounding of a volunteer medic Tuesday night. He traveled from his home in Illinois armed with a semiautomatic rifle, according to investigators. The shootings were captured on video.
The protesters were killed as they demonstrated against the Kenosha police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black father, on Sunday. Blake was shot seven times in the back by as he walked to his car, where his three young children were waiting for him.
It wasn’t until the day after the protesters were killed that Facebook took down a page for the “Kenosha Guard,” which touted the event “Armed Citizens to Protect Our Lives and Property,” for violating the platform’s policy against militia organizations. The invitation to arms was picked up and distributed by the far-right conspiracy website Infowars.
Language used by the “guard” on Facebook used was incendiary. The vigilantes’ page asked if “any patriots [are] willing to take up arms and defend our city tonight from the evil thugs?”
Zuckerberg’s explanation for why the armed group wasn’t flagged earlier was unclear. He said the page was finally removed after a “review.”
“The contractors and the reviewers who the initial complaints were funneled to basically didn’t pick this up, and on second review, doing it more sensitively, the team … that’s responsible for dangerous organizations recognized that this violated the policies, and we took it down,” he said.
Rittenhouse’s page was also taken down, Zuckerberg said. Facebook hasn’t found any connection between the militia and the teen, he added. He didn’t mention a possible Infowars link.
Zuckerberg called the Kenosha shootings — of Blake, the protesters and the medic — “deeply troubling.” He added: “Things aren’t really improving at the pace that they should be. That’s really painful, really discouraging.”
According to BuzzFeed, one employee snapped back at Zuckerberg: “At what point do we take responsibility for enabling hate-filled bile to spread across our services? [A]nti semitism, conspiracy, and white supremacy reeks across our services.”
Blake is recovering in a hospital but may never walk again. He had been shackled to his bed because of a previous criminal warrant, The New York Times reported, but his handcuffs were removed Friday afternoon.