Update 10:20am CT, June 11: Following publication of this story, a Facebook spokesperson told the Daily Dot, “We’ve removed these groups for violating our Community Standards.”
The original story appears below.
Facebook is rife with public and private groups dedicated to supporting Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police who killed George Floyd.
Floyd died after Chauvin knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, ignoring his cries of “I can’t breathe,” and onlookers urging him to stop. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder.
The May 25 slaying has ignited one of the most intense and prolonged periods of civil unrest in United States history.
People across the country saw the killing of an unarmed Black man by a white officer as emblematic of centuries of racial oppression and police brutality against Blacks. Hundreds of thousands have participated in protests in all 50 states that continue to present day.
The protests are inspiring long-sought changes. Across the country, Confederate monuments are coming down, police reform is taking modest first steps, and politicians are pledging to work towards racial equality in meaningful ways. In many ways, people are united more than ever.
As always, there is an extremely vocal minority taking the opposite side. And, as always, you can find them on Facebook, spewing into the void on public and private groups.
Groups include “Derek Chauvin race warrior,” “Derek Chauvin is innocent!” and Derek Chauvin did nothing wrong!”
Membership in the public groups is relatively low. With 237 members as of this writing, “Derek Chauvin did nothing wrong!” appears to be the largest.
Conversely, one of the private groups, “Derek Chauvin race warrior,” has 750 members. (Hint: the answer to the question to gain admittance is “yes.”)
Much of the content in these groups, particularly the private ones, is as appalling and racist as one might expect. Posts include conspiracy theories, abhorrent memes, and links to the since-deleted GoFundMe for Chauvin’s bail. Many malign Floyd and insinuate he deserved to be killed for having a criminal record; some lie outright about his past. A few even celebrate his death.
“Chauvin did us all a favor,” writes a member of “FREE Derek Chauvin.”
“He was a thug that got caught committing a crime,” a woman writes in the “Derek Chauvin race warrior” group. “It’s unfortunate but the cops did their jobs.”
Chauvin, on the other hand, is lauded as a hero.
Support for President Donald Trump is an unsurprisingly consistent theme in these groups.
Numerous conspiracy theorists in these groups claim, falsely, that Floyd died of natural causes. One posits that he was part of the Illuminati and his death was intended to convince the weak-minded to incite a race war. In “FREE Derek Chauvin,” an admin has posted a picture of a woman kneeling on her child’s neck—also known as the appalling “George Floyd challenge“—in an apparent attempt to cast doubt on Floyd’s cause of death.
When someone challenges this assertion, they double down, writing, “George Floyd could have had a piece of gum in his mouth and choked on his own gum.”
False equivalency is also quite common. People attempt to draw parallels between Floyd’s death and whites who were killed by police or white farmers murdered in foreign countries, a favorite sticking point of conservatives.
Some of the posts and comments in these groups clearly violate Facebook’s community standards, which broadly prohibit hate speech and other forms of objectionable content.
In a response to the Daily Dot, Facebook said it was “looking into” the groups.
One June 7 post in the private “FREE Derek Chauvin” group is an image of Floyd being killed with his face photoshopped pink and the caption “Pink Floyd.” Facebook prohibits “cruel and insensitive” content “that depicts real people and laughs at or makes fun of their premature death.”
Beneath it a woman urges the person who posted it to commit suicide. A page admin responds in kind and calls the woman, who is Black, the N-word.
Facebook does appear to have pursued some enforcement, though based on the content it’s been haphazard at best. Some images of Floyd’s death are covered with warning signs, while others aren’t.
Comments on the pages indicate that Facebook has shut down similar groups. On other pages, there are comments urging people to report violations.
On May 29, in “Derek Chauvin did nothing wrong!,” someone posted with disbelief that such a group existed and urged “sane” people to report it, clearly in the hopes of getting it taken down. Some commented that they had done exactly that. The group remains active.
In a strategy with shades of K-pop stans’ fight against racism on Twitter, large numbers of people have taken to trolling these pages with anti-racist content, such as below.
This has led to comment wars, and admins muting or expelling members, none of which seems to dissuade the opposition.
If Facebook isn’t going to clean up these pages, people are clearly fine taking matters into their own hands.
This post has been updated with comment from Facebook.