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Facebook’s update suggests the rules don’t take effect until late October.

USA TODAY

Facebook said Tuesday it is escalating the campaign against QAnon, pledging to remove any Facebook pages, groups and Instagram accounts aligned with the conspiracy group.

Until now, Facebook only said it would take action against QAnon activity containing discussions about potential violence.

That action, which began in mid-August, came after sharp criticism that it had allowed the extremist conspiracy movement to spread largely unchecked on its platforms. In the month since taking that action, Facebook said it removed more than 1,500 QAnon-related pages and groups for discussions of potential violence and more than 6,500 pages and groups “tied to more than 300 Militarized Social Movements.”.

“But we believe these efforts need to be strengthened when addressing QAnon,” Facebook said in a post on its website.

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Beginning Tuesday, Facebook will remove any pages, groups and Instagram accounts representing QAnon, “even if they contain no violent content,” the company confirmed. 

Facebook said several factors led to this escalation in dealing with QAnon. “For example, while we’ve removed QAnon content that celebrates and supports violence, we’ve seen other QAnon content tied to different forms of real world harm, including recent claims that the west coast wildfires were started by certain groups, which diverted attention of local officials from fighting the fires and protecting the public.”

The extremist conspiracy group’s messaging “changes very quickly and we see networks of supporters build an audience with one message and then quickly pivot to another.” Facebook said.

Users who act as administrators of these pages and groups will continue to be removed, also.

The company’s Dangerous Organizations Operations team will “proactively detect content for removal instead of relying on user reports.”

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday he was pleased in Facebook’s move “against this harmful and increasingly dangerous conspiracy theory and movement.”

“Just this morning I encouraged the company to take the threat of QAnon more seriously, given increasing evidence that its growth has in large part been propelled by Facebook,” Warner said in a statement. “Ultimately, the real test will be whether Facebook actually takes measures to enforce these new policies – we’ve seen in a myriad of other contexts, including with respect to right-wing militias like the Boogaloos, that Facebook has repeatedly failed to consistently enforce its existing policies.”

Warner was among those calling for Facebook to ban the violent, anti-government extremist “boogaloo” movement from its platform, which the social network took action against in June.

Last week, Facebook said it was cracking down on QAnon for hijacking the Save The Children movement to push falsehoods about the exploitation of children by prominent Democrats including presidential nominee Joe Biden.

“We are taking steps to address evidence that QAnon adherents are increasingly using the issue of child safety and hashtags like #savethechildren to recruit and organize,” Facebook said at the time. With the change, Facebook users searching for that hashtag and related hashtags will be directed to credible child safety resources.

At the time, Facebook also said QAnon content would be “down-ranked,” meaning it’s less visible on Facebook’s platforms.

QAnon followers believe that President Donald Trump is a messianic figure battling a “deep state” of devil-worshipping, child-molesting Democrats. 

Observers say the 2016 presidential election spurred the rise of conspiracy theories once confined to the fringes. Now these theories are circulating in the mainstream and being amplified by prominent political figures in an alarming break from the norms of presidential politicking.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement, “We hope that this is a sincere effort to purge hate and antisemitism from their platform, and not another knee-jerk response to pressure from members of Congress and the public.”

After the president announced he had tested positive for COVID-19, QAnon conspiracy theories ramped up, he said.

Some even suggested Trump faked the diagnosis to cover up his planned move against the “deep state.”  Others theorized the “left” gave Trump the novel coronavirus purposefully. 

Greenblatt hopes Facebook is transparent about “how the ban is being enforced and whether it is fully effective. As we’ve seen recently with the speed at which misinformation has spread around the president’s contraction of coronavirus, QAnon presents a serious threat to our democracy, and we are still concerned that the people behind these groups will use subterfuge in an effort to find a workaround to continue spreading disinformation.”

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