Facebook Tried to Limit QAnon. It Failed.

“The groups, including QAnon, feel incredibly passionate about their cause and will do whatever they can do attract new people to their conspiracy movement. Meanwhile, Facebook has nowhere near the same type of urgency or mandate to contain them,” Mr. View said. “Facebook is operating with constraints and these extremist movements are not.”

Researchers who study QAnon said the movement’s continued growth was partly related to Facebook’s recommendation engine, which pushes people to join groups and pages related to the conspiracy theory.

Marc-André Argentino, a Ph.D. candidate at Concordia University who is studying QAnon, said he had identified 51 Facebook groups that branded themselves as anti-child trafficking organizations, but which were actually predominantly sharing QAnon conspiracies. Many of the groups, which were formed at the start of 2020, spiked in growth in the weeks after Facebook and Twitter began enforcing new bans on QAnon.

The groups previously added dozens to hundreds of new members each week. Following the bans, they attracted tens of thousands of new members weekly, according to data published by Mr. Argentino.

Facebook said it was studying the groups, but has not taken action on them.

The company is increasingly facing criticism, including from Hollywood celebrities and civic rights groups. On Wednesday, celebrities including Kim Kardashian West, Katy Perry and Mark Ruffalo said they were freezing their Instagram accounts for 24 hours to protest Facebook’s policies. (Instagram is owned by Facebook.)

The Anti-Defamation League also said it was pressing Facebook to take action on militia groups and other extremist organizations. “We have been warning Facebook safety teams literally for years about the problem of dangerous and potentially violent extremists using their products to organize and to recruit followers,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the A.D.L., said.

The A.D.L., which has been meeting with Facebook for months about its concerns, has publicly posted lists of hate groups and conspiracy organizations present on the social network. David L. Sifry, the vice president of A.D.L.’s Center for Technology and Society, said that the A.D.L. has had similar conversations about extremist content with other platforms like Twitter, Reddit, TikTok and YouTube, which have been more receptive.

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