Facebook has been automatically creating pages for organisations like al-Qaeda and the Proud Boys for years. This indicates that it produces content for organisations engaged in violent crime.
At a congressional hearing this week, Chris Cox, the chief product officer of Facebook, was shown a screenshot of an Aryan Brotherhood Facebook page. He was prompted to deny that his business had created the page on behalf of the white supremacist prison gang.
During his appearance before the Senate on Wednesday, Cox said to Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), “Senator, respectfully, we wouldn’t have put this page up ourselves.”
In actuality, Facebook not only built the page but also posted it.
Facebook has been creating pages for domestic militias, international terrorist organisations, and white nationalist organizations—as well as groups that Facebook has specifically forbidden from using its platform—automatically for more than ten years.
Facebook has never given an explanation for why it does this, yet the action increases the visibility of extremist groups, many of which engage in actual violent acts.
For many years, The Tech Transparency Project (TTP) has been sounding the alarm over these automatically generated pages. The dangers of this Facebook feature are explained in the following primer.
What do Facebook auto-generated Pages do?
When a user includes a career, passion, or location in their profile that does not already have a page, Facebook automatically creates those pages on its network.
Depending on whether the page is for a clothing store or doughnut shop, this may be very harmless. However, Facebook also creates these pages for terrorist and extremist organisations. For instance, Facebook automatically creates a business page for the far-right anti-government group when a user who belongs to such group puts their job title as “Oath Keeper” on the social media platform.
In a 2019 petition submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission, a whistleblower was the one who initially brought up the problem of Facebook automatically creating sites for extremist organisations. Numerous automatically produced pages for terrorist and white supremacist groups were found by the petition.
Facebook hasn’t given a justification for creating pages automatically. The business provided the following explanation in a Help page for the feature that was later removed:
“A Page may exist for your business even if someone from your business didn’t create it. For example, when someone checks into a place that doesn’t have a Page, an unmanaged Page is created to represent the location. A Page may also be generated from a Wikipedia article.”