Sheryl Sandberg Downplayed Facebook’s Role In Capitol Riots —DOJ Files Tell Very Different Story


Forbes reviewed data from the Program on Extremism at the George Washington University, which has collated a list of more than 200 charging documents filed in relation to the siege. In total, the charging documents refer to 223 individuals in the Capitol Hill riot investigation. Of those documents, 73 reference Facebook. That’s far more references than other social networks. YouTube was the second most-referenced on 24. Instagram, a Facebook-owned company, was next on 20.

Parler, the app that pledged protection for free speech rights and garnered a large far-right userbase, was mentioned in just eight.

But just after the Capitol Hill riots on January 6, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook chief operating officer said “I think these events were largely organized on platforms that don’t have our abilities to stop hate and don’t have our standards and don’t have our transparency,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook chief operating officer, shortly after the Capitol Hill riots on January 6.

Sandberg was later criticized for downplaying her employer’s role as a platform for the organizers of the siege. But Facebook was far and away the most cited social media site in charging documents the Justice Department  filed against members of the Capitol Hill mob, providing further evidence that Sandberg was, perhaps, mistaken in her claim. Facebook, however, claims that the documents show the social media company has been especially forthcoming in assisting law enforcement in investigating users who breached the Capitol.

The references are a mix of public posts and private messages sent on each platform, discussing  plans to go to the Stop the Steal march, some containing threats of violence, as well as images, videos and livestreams from the breach of the Capitol building.

Livestreaming crime on Facebook

Whilst the data doesn’t show definitively what app was the most popular amongst rioters, it does strongly indicate Facebook was rioters’ the preferred platform. Previously, Forbes had reported on cases where Facebook users had publicly posted their intention to attend the riots. One included the image of a bullet with the caption, “By Bullet or Ballot, Restoration of the Republic is Coming.” The man who posted the image was later arrested after posting images of himself at the Capitol on January 6, according to investigators. In other cases, the FBI found Facebook users had livestreamed their attack on the building. As the Washington Post previously reported, the #StopTheSteal hashtag was seen across Facebook in the days around January 6, with 128,000 users talking about it, according to data provided by Eric Feinberg, a vice president with the Coalition for a Safer Web.

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