Facebook removing posts linking Oregon blazes to extremist groups

State officials have been attempting to debunk misinformation regarding the Oregon wildfires on social media. PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON • Facebook has started removing false claims that the deadly wildfires in Oregon were started by various left-wing and right-wing groups, a spokesman for the social media company said, after the rumours left state officials inundated with queries for information.

Since early last week, state officials in the United States have been attempting to debunk misinformation on social media that has blamed extremist groups on both sides for the deadly blazes.

Facebook, which earlier was attaching warning labels to such posts, decided to move to the stricter approach after "confirmation from law enforcement that these rumours are forcing local fire and police agencies to divert resources from fighting the fires and protecting the public", Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement on Twitter.

Mr Stone called the decision "consistent with (Facebook's) past efforts to remove content that could lead to imminent harm given the possible risk to human life as the fires rage on".

One of Facebook's third-party fact-checking partners, PolitiFact, wrote last Thursday on its website that dozens of posts blaming Antifa - a largely unstructured, far-left movement - for the fires had been flagged by Facebook's systems, and that collectively the posts had been shared thousands of times.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Friday said in a statement that after investigating several reports that extremists were responsible for setting wildfires in Oregon, it found them to be untrue.

Police in Medford, Oregon, debunked a false post using the police department's logo and name suggesting that five members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group, had been arrested for arson.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2020, with the headline Facebook removing posts linking Oregon blazes to extremist groups. Subscribe