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Citizen Browser

Facebook Said It Would Stop Pushing Users to Join Partisan Political Groups. It Didn’t

According to Citizen Browser data, the platform especially peppered Trump voters with political grouprecommendations

Thomas Pullin

In the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, Facebook said it was taking “emergency” measures to prevent people from using the platform to spread misinformation or coordinate violence. Among those measures, CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified under oath before Congress in October, Facebook had stopped recommending all “political content or social issue groups”—a practice its own internal research has suggested steers users toward divisive and extremist content. 

Days after a riot organized at least partially on social media overtook the U.S. Capitol, Facebook reiterated in a Jan. 11 blog post that it was “not recommending civic groups for people to join.”

But contrary to Facebook’s claims, The Markup found the platform continued to recommend political groups to its users throughout December. We found 12 political groups among the top 100 groups recommended to the more than 1,900 Facebook users in our Citizen Browser project, which tracks links and group recommendations served to a nationwide panel of Facebook users. Our data shows Facebook also continued to recommend political groups throughout January, including after it renewed its promise not to on Jan. 11.

Facebook pushed political groups most often to the Trump voters on our panel. Almost one fourth of the top 100 groups suggested to Trump voters were political—and political groups accounted for half of the top 10 groups recommended to Trump voters. Some posts in those groups contained conspiracy theories, calls to violence against public officials, and discussions of logistics for attending the rally that preceded the Capitol riot. 

“We have a clear policy against recommending civic or political groups on our platforms,” Facebook spokesperson Kevin McAlister wrote in response to The Markup’s findings, “and are investigating why these were recommended in the first place.”

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Nearly a quarter of Trump voters received recommendations to join political groups, while non-voters received none

The 100 most commonly recommended political and non-political Facebook groups, by voteraffiliation

Political group Non-Political group
Trump voters

The Far Side

Political group

Tucker Carlson Fox News

Political group

Candace Owens For POTUS, 2024

Political group

Kayleigh McEnany Fan Club

DIY,Ideas,Projects,Crafts and more

Political group

Patriot Room (formerly Leo Terrell 2.0)

Field and Barn Finds-Classic Cars/Trucks For Sale or Trade

1970s ✌ doyouremember.com

Political group

Official Kayleigh McEnany page! No spam or trolls allowed this time!

The Dodo

Win The Win

Cast Iron Cooking

Dad Jokes Everywhere

Air Fryer Tips and Recipes

Instant Pot® Community

Political group

Candace Owens 2024 🇺🇸

The Marriage Club

Doggy Memes & Videos

Political group

Dan Crenshaw for POTUS 2024

Political group

Rudy Giuliani [Common Sense]

Funny Christmas Memes!

Political group

Dan Bongino Fans

Political group

Ben Shapiro Fans

Positive Quotes

FreebieShark's Official Group

The Far Side

Political group

Kayleigh McEnany Supporters and Fans

Dhar Mann Official FAN page- Asia/Middle East/Europe/Africa

Political group

One America News Network ✅ (Fan Group)

Cheap Meal Ideas

Political group

Victor Davis Hanson Fan Club

DIY Farmhouse Vintage Shabby Chic (Original)

Political group

Reinstate Amiri King!

Good Old Days

Good Ole Soul Food Recipes

Feisty Soul Tribe ~ The Group

5-Minute Diy Arts & Crafts

Political group

Trey Gowdy: The Legend with Great Hair

Weird Secondhand Finds That Just Need To Be Shared

LAUGH WITH AUNTY ACID- MAXINE

Fun & Funny Christmas Memes

Funny sarcastic grandma

80s/90s/ Early 2000s Nostalgia Haven

Funny Huskies

Hold My Beer , The Short Bus Is Here

Ibotta's Saver Community

Political group

FLOTUS Melania

Doggo

Cheap Cars for Sale by Owner

Political group

Donald J. Trump 2nd Presidential Inauguration Ceremony

Instant Pot Recipes Only

Christian Inspirational Quotes

Golden Retriever Club

Christian Humor

Dogspotting

Political group

Fans of One America News Network (OANN)

The Original Cranky Old Women Group.

ALDI Aisle of Shame Community

Cool Dog Group

Ashley's free sample and direct ship!

Freebies!

Disapproving Corgis

Crafty Fun Group

Grand Larsony

Slaton Sisters for All

Walter E. Williams

Political group

Trump Daily Report

Rate My Dog

Friends of Sidney Powell

Art, Crafts & DIY

Primer & Rust, Rats & Rods

Dogs and puppies for rehoming near me

Biker Online Yard Sale

Antique, Classic and Muscle Cars (For Sale Group)

Crockpot/Slow Cooker Recipes & Tips

Grandma Funnies

The Smart Report

LEGIT FREEBIES & MORE!

Dash Cam Footage Community

Hot Rods, Classics, Muscle Cars, Kustoms, Gassers, Street Rods, 4Sale

LAUGH WITH THE LADIES

Just For Jokes

Dr Pimple videos

Amazing World

Political group

Donald Trump Is Our President - The Group

Golden Retriever the Paws

Star Trek Memes

Dog Missing / Pet Lost & Found Alert Group

Swagbucks

Turner Classic Movies For Fans!

Political group

Women for Trump

PROPHET TRACY COOKE PROPHECIES UPDATE

💞🐶 Dachshund Love 🐶💞

Only The Hilarious

Work Week Memes

Our Relationship Rules

Relationship Love Quotes

Political group

The Ben Shapiro Show Memes and Discussion

Pennsylvania Campers And Parts For Sale

Political group

Dr. Steve Turley Fans

23/100
Biden voters

The Far Side

The Marriage Club

Weird Secondhand Finds That Just Need To Be Shared

DIY,Ideas,Projects,Crafts and more

The Dodo

Instant Pot® Community

Doggy Memes & Videos

Air Fryer Tips and Recipes

Good Ole Soul Food Recipes

Field and Barn Finds-Classic Cars/Trucks For Sale or Trade

Disapproving Corgis

1970s ✌ doyouremember.com

Political group

Steve Schmidt fan club

Doggo

Relationship Love Quotes

Dad Jokes Everywhere

80s/90s/ Early 2000s Nostalgia Haven

Political group

Dr. Fauci Fan Club

Dogspotting

Cheap Meal Ideas

Our Relationship Rules

Cheap Cars for Sale by Owner

Love Quotes

So in Love

❤️Love Life ❤️

ALDI Aisle of Shame Community

Political group

Lincoln Project Americans Protecting Democracy

The Far Side

Instant Pot Recipes Only

Star Trek Memes

THIS CAT IS C H O N K Y

Positive Quotes

Relationship Goals 💗

Cool Dog Group

TRUE LOVE STORY

Funny Huskies

Cast Iron Cooking

Please show to Jim ! ! HA ! ! HA ! !

Calvin and Hobbes Ride Again

In The Kitchen With EmmyMade

Political group

Funny Trump Memes

Relationship quotes

Political group

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Political group

Joe BIDEN POTUS 46 Official

Extreme Love Group

Amazing World

DEAR EX-BOYFRIEND/GIRLFRIEND

Rate My Dog

Love & Relationships

LOVE QUOTE AND UPDATE

Relationship Advice

Dogspotting Society

Funny Christmas Memes!

Love My Husband Quotes

RELATIONSHIP & DATING TIPS

Moments of love

Positive and Motivational Quotes about Everything

Political group

Steve Schmidt Humanitarian &Patriot vs. tRump Redux

Political group

Barack Obama Fan Club

Husband and Wife love zone

Political group

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN 2021

Turner Classic Movies For Fans!

Heartbroken Quotes

True Love Matters

All About Relationships ❤️

Art, Crafts & DIY

5-Minute Diy Arts & Crafts

Political group

The Lincoln Project > Undo the Damage

Grand Larsony

FreebieShark's Official Group

The Official Crow, Raven & Other Corvids Fan Page

The Hudson Valley in pictures

A Group Where We Pretend its 2009-2012

Political group

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Fan Club

Political group

Joe Biden lovers

Only Thai Food Recipes

💞🐶 Dachshund Love 🐶💞

Dogs and puppies for rehoming near me

Political group

BidenHarris2020

Only The Hilarious

Political group

The Liberal Skeptic's Dank Meme Stash

Throwback Jamz: Music That's Good For The Soul

Primer & Rust, Rats & Rods

Cute couples/romantic quotes

Eastern Shore Boat and Marine Stuff

Good Old Days

A Group Where We Only Speak Like Nathan W. Pyle Beings

Dhar Mann Official FAN page- Asia/Middle East/Europe/Africa

🔥 Seafood & Soul Food Recipe Foodies 😋 The Original!

Sweet Relationship Quotes

LAUGH WITH AUNTY ACID- MAXINE

Mature Conversations About Relationships

Old Images of New York Group

Political group

Project Lincoln

Science Humor

Feisty Soul Tribe ~ The Group

Cars For Sale In Nj

LOVE STORY/POEMS

Funny sarcastic grandma

Accidental Renaissance Paintings

15/100
Non-voters

Good Ole Soul Food Recipes

The Marriage Club

Field and Barn Finds-Classic Cars/Trucks For Sale or Trade

The Dodo

80s/90s/ Early 2000s Nostalgia Haven

Relationship Memes

Cheap Meal Ideas

Freebies!

The Far Side

FreebieShark's Official Group

Relationship Love Quotes

Amazing World

DIY,Ideas,Projects,Crafts and more

Relationship Goals 💗

So in Love

Doggy Memes & Videos

Instant Pot Recipes Only

❤️Love Life ❤️

Vietnamese Cooking Group

Dhar Mann Official FAN page- Asia/Middle East/Europe/Africa

RELATIONSHIP & DATING TIPS

Disapproving Corgis

Our Relationship Rules

Weird Secondhand Finds That Just Need To Be Shared

A Group Where We Pretend its 2009-2012

Guide2Free FREE Samples, Freebies, Product Testing, Direct Ship & More

Positive Quotes about Everything

Netflix Bangers

Ashley's free sample and direct ship!

Dad Jokes Everywhere

Funny Christmas Memes!

Dogspotting

Instant Pot® Community

Please show to Jim ! ! HA ! ! HA ! !

1970s ✌ doyouremember.com

Antique, Classic and Muscle Cars (For Sale Group)

LEGIT FREEBIES & MORE!

TRUE LOVE STORY

Ibotta's Saver Community

The Far Side

Freebie Mom

Moments of love

Positive Quotes

♥ LIGHTWORKERS of THE WORLD ♥

Love Quotes

Dr Pimple videos

Extreme Love Group

💞🐶 Dachshund Love 🐶💞

Cast Iron Cooking

Cheap Cars for Sale by Owner

Husband and Wife love zone

Lover's Touch🔥

Heartbroken Quotes

Caribbean Recipes

LOVE QUOTE AND UPDATE

Cute couples/romantic quotes

TRUE QUOTES IN RELATIONSHIPS.

Air Fryer Tips and Recipes

Funny Huskies

Relationship Advice

🔥 Seafood & Soul Food Recipe Foodies 😋 The Original!

Art, Crafts & DIY

Female Problems

Love & Relationships

The Relationship Quotes

BROKEN HEART QUOTES

Fan Valkyrae

I Was A 90s Nick Kid

Cool Dog Group

Abandoned and Neglected Vehicles For SALE

Instant Pot Vietnamese Food Recipes

Johnny depp

Cars For Sale In Nj

THIS CAT IS C H O N K Y

Ibotta Friends and Bonuses

Manhattan Before 1990

LOVE STORY/POEMS

Makeup Lovers

BROKEN HEART QUOTES

That’s It, I’m Eyelash Shaming

Totally free samples, full size products & Awesome Deals!!

5-Minute Diy Arts & Crafts

Cute Thoughts

Good Old Days

Welsh Twins

That’s it, I’m hair shaming

Shopkicks

VonBeau - Freebies, Samples, Deals & Coupons!

Old Images of New York Group

Muscle Car Lovers

#1 Baby Yoda Memes

Doggo

Turner Classic Movies For Fans!

Relationship quotes ❤❤

Emo Memes Melt Steel Beams

Official Sweepstakes Fanatics Group

Quotes Lovers

Love My Husband Quotes

𝐆𝐡𝐢𝐛𝐥𝐢 𝐀𝐞𝐬𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐭𝐢𝐜

Jobs In New York City NYC

0/100
All panelists

The Far Side

DIY,Ideas,Projects,Crafts and more

The Dodo

The Marriage Club

Field and Barn Finds-Classic Cars/Trucks For Sale or Trade

Weird Secondhand Finds That Just Need To Be Shared

Instant Pot® Community

Doggy Memes & Videos

Air Fryer Tips and Recipes

1970s ✌ doyouremember.com

Good Ole Soul Food Recipes

Disapproving Corgis

Dad Jokes Everywhere

80s/90s/ Early 2000s Nostalgia Haven

Cheap Meal Ideas

Political group

Kayleigh McEnany Fan Club

Cast Iron Cooking

Doggo

Cheap Cars for Sale by Owner

The Far Side

Relationship Love Quotes

Political group

Candace Owens For POTUS, 2024

Dogspotting

Positive Quotes

Political group

Tucker Carlson Fox News

Instant Pot Recipes Only

Our Relationship Rules

Funny Christmas Memes!

Love Quotes

ALDI Aisle of Shame Community

Funny Huskies

So in Love

Cool Dog Group

Political group

Steve Schmidt fan club

Star Trek Memes

❤️Love Life ❤️

FreebieShark's Official Group

Relationship Goals 💗

Amazing World

TRUE LOVE STORY

Political group

Patriot Room (formerly Leo Terrell 2.0)

Rate My Dog

Dhar Mann Official FAN page- Asia/Middle East/Europe/Africa

Political group

Dr. Fauci Fan Club

Please show to Jim ! ! HA ! ! HA ! !

THIS CAT IS C H O N K Y

5-Minute Diy Arts & Crafts

Political group

Official Kayleigh McEnany page! No spam or trolls allowed this time!

Good Old Days

Calvin and Hobbes Ride Again

In The Kitchen With EmmyMade

Dogspotting Society

Extreme Love Group

Win The Win

Feisty Soul Tribe ~ The Group

Relationship quotes

Art, Crafts & DIY

DIY Farmhouse Vintage Shabby Chic (Original)

DEAR EX-BOYFRIEND/GIRLFRIEND

Funny sarcastic grandma

RELATIONSHIP & DATING TIPS

Political group

Lincoln Project Americans Protecting Democracy

LAUGH WITH AUNTY ACID- MAXINE

Positive and Motivational Quotes about Everything

LOVE QUOTE AND UPDATE

Turner Classic Movies For Fans!

Moments of love

Relationship Memes

Relationship Advice

Primer & Rust, Rats & Rods

Love & Relationships

Love My Husband Quotes

Dogs and puppies for rehoming near me

💞🐶 Dachshund Love 🐶💞

Grand Larsony

Ibotta's Saver Community

Political group

Joe BIDEN POTUS 46 Official

Political group

Funny Trump Memes

Nail Maintenance for Dogs

Golden Retriever Club

Heartbroken Quotes

Chevy Trucks For Sale

Dog Missing / Pet Lost & Found Alert Group

Crockpot/Slow Cooker Recipes & Tips

Antique, Classic and Muscle Cars (For Sale Group)

Political group

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Only The Hilarious

The Hudson Valley in pictures

Husband and Wife love zone

Cars For Sale In Nj

Old Images of New York Group

Fun & Funny Christmas Memes

Slaton Sisters for All

Eastern Shore Boat and Marine Stuff

True Love Matters

A Group Where We Pretend its 2009-2012

Granny's Funnies and sarcasm the

Only Thai Food Recipes

Science Humor

Political group

Candace Owens 2024 🇺🇸

12/100
Source: 1,917 panelists from The Markup/Citizen Browser throughout December 2020. Complete data available on GitHub.

A post in the “Rudy Giuliani [Common Sense]” group, which was recommended to 8 percent of Trump voters in our panel, called for Georgia’s governor and secretary of state to be hanged because of their refusal to overturn election results. 

That post was removed after The Markup contacted Facebook. 

In another group, “Donald Trump Is Our President,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was the target of a recent post. “Just wish they would have found her and marched her out of the building in handcuffs to citizen’s arrest,” a comment with 25 likes said. Facebook recommended the group to 19 of our panelists. The group is run by Ryan Fournier, co-chairman of the conservative group Turning Point Action. 

The administrator of a group recommended to 19 percent of Trump voters in our panel posted an event called “#StormTheCapitol” on Dec. 30, 2020, telling the 58,000 members in “Candace Owens for POTUS, 2024” to show up in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6. 

Owens did not respond to a request for comment.

The administrator was later named among a group of Minnesotans who traveled to the D.C. rally. It is not clear if he went to the Capitol.

That group was among the three most frequently suggested political groups for our panelists who voted for Trump, along with “Tucker Carlson Fox News” and “Kayleigh McEnany Fan Club.” Each was recommended to one in five Trump voters on our panel.

Political groups were also suggested to our panelists who voted for Biden, albeit at a different rate—15 percent of the top recommended groups were political, but only two thirds were left-leaning. These political groups did not crack the top 10 most recommended groups. 

The political group most frequently recommended to Biden voters on our panel was a fan page for Steve Schmidt, the Republican founder of the anti-Trump group The Lincoln Project. This page was the 13th most recommended group, with 8 percent of Biden voters receiving a suggestion they join.

Our 115 panelists who reported not voting in 2020 received no recommendations for political groups at all. 

Most of the 97,443 groups recommended to our panelists were not political. The top recommended group for all panelists was for The Far Side comics, followed by groups for crafts, animals, relationships, cars, and recipes. (For the top 100 recommended groups, refer to our GitHub.)

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Trump and Biden voters were recommended drastically different politicalgroups

Groups by how frequently they were recommended to our panelists

Biden voters
Trump voters

Steve Schmidt fan club

55,000 Members

Tucker Carlson Fox News

58,000 Members

Dr. Fauci Fan Club

48,000 Members

Candace Owens For POTUS, 2024

58,000 Members

Lincoln Project Americans Protecting Democracy

33,000 Members

Kayleigh McEnany Fan Club

432,000 Members

Funny Trump Memes

5,900 Members

Patriot Room (formerly Leo Terrell 2.0)

19,000 Members

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

49,000 Members

Official Kayleigh McEnany page! No spam or trolls allowed this time!

30,000 Members

Source: 1,917 panelists from The Markup/Citizen Browser throughout December 2020. Complete data available on GitHub.

Facebook, when it announced it would halt political group recommendations, did not detail how it would classify groups as political. The platform has a mechanism that allows administrators to tag their own groups as “civic” or “political,” but except for the “Dan Crenshaw for POTUS 2024” group, the groups The Markup identified had not tagged themselves as political. 

To determine whether or not a group recommended to our panelists was political, The Markup looked at the group’s name, it’s “about” page, and its rules; and for groups that were public or that accepted our request to join, we read through recent posts in the group’s “discussion” feed to assess whether the group mentions politicians, political commentators, movements, parties, or ideologies. In some cases, as with the “Ben Shapiro Fans” group, the group’s own rules instructed members to “not post content unrelated to Ben Shapiro or politics.”

When possible, we contacted administrators for all the groups mentioned in this story. Of those that responded, the Candace Owens for POTUS, 2024 and Steve Schmidt fan club groups told The Markup they consider their groups “political.” The Giuliani fan group’s administrator, Patricia Brackett, said in a Facebook voice message that her page was meant for Trump supporters.

“Politics, I wouldn’t say that because I’m not for either side,” she said. “I’m for a man who I know can change the future and do good for this country.”

There are limitations to some of our findings. Our group of Citizen Browser panelists is small compared to the millions of Facebook users in the United States. The group recommendations shown to the 508 Trump and 1,214 Biden voters in our panel are not necessarily representative of what such voters are experiencing in the larger world of Facebook. Our panel also skews older, more educated, and whiter than the general population, and we are particularly short on Trump voters and Latinos. (Read more about how we built the panel and the custom browser that panelists use to automatically send us Facebook data here.)

However, Facebook does not provide data on its group recommendations for users, and nobody has to date found a way to otherwise access that data. Through Citizen Browser, we’re able to provide a rare look into the groups Facebook chooses to broadcast to hundreds of people in the United States.

Among the top recommended political groups for Biden voters, most were rife with anti-Trump posts. 

A member of “Joe BIDEN POTUS 46 Official” posted a meme aimed at belittling Trump voters as overweight, gun-toting trailer park residents. One comment on the post described the image as “One of 70 million other deplorable ignorant ungrateful loser [sic].”

Another meme, in the “Last Week Tonight” group for fans of the political commentary program, suggested that Trump voters were incestuous terrorists. 

If Facebook and other social media companies are serious about meeting this moment, they will make systematic changes on their platforms.

Sen. Ed Markey

In one group that follows a conservative commentator, “Dr. Steve Turley Fans,” recommended to 18 Trump voter panelists, a member asked for advice on how to “stay positive and focused” if the events on Jan. 6 failed to change the election’s outcome.

The replies varied, from suggesting prayer to staying optimistic—but one was more sinister. 

“At some point in time, it may come down to simple blood-shed,” a top reply said. 

The original poster responded, “I know this and I feel like I was made for that moment which is thrilling and completely terrifying also.”

The group remains active, and the post was still up at press time.

Shown our findings, Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, called on Facebook to act. 

“If Facebook and other social media companies are serious about meeting this moment, they will make systematic changes on their platforms to stop prioritizing user engagement and advertising dollars over the wellbeing of our society and democracy,” he said in a statement.

Jessica González, co-CEO of Free Press and lead organizer of several coalitions that seek to stop hate speech on digital platforms, said Facebook has a history of announcing improvements to its platform that later fall flat. 

“Their policy looks good on its face but they’re narrowly interpreting that policy so it doesn’t apply when things really get hot,” González said.  

It’s unclear how Facebook chooses which groups to recommend to any given user—but its suggestions are powerful.

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Documents examined by the Wall Street Journal last May show Facebook’s internal research found 64 percent of new members in extremist groups joined because of the social network’s “Groups you should join” and “Discover” algorithms. Facebook declined to comment to the Wall Street Journal about how it addressed the issues with groups but told the outlet that it has improved policies since 2016.

In the past year, Facebook groups have been linked to deaths at a protest in Kenosha, Wis., and the growth of the QAnon conspiracy theory, as well as providing a recruiting ground for hate groups

Our analysis showed that for our panelists, the political groups Facebook recommended did not necessarily have much to do with their social connections: Panelists who voted for Trump were only recommended to join a political group containing one of their friends 1.4 percent of the time—for Biden voters it was 2.4 percent of the time.

González said group recommendations are likely a symptom of Facebook’s data profiles, which the social network creates to help advertisers find their target audience. 

“The use of personal data to target people who may be vulnerable to those kinds of messages is something that I think Congress needs to get at with data privacy legislation,” she said.

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