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Facebook takes down Antifa wildfire rumors days after they start

Facebook took down the posts Sept. 12, after they had already gone viral and caused headaches for law enforcement officials and 911 dispatchers.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Facebook announced Saturday it is removing false claims that antifascists were responsible for setting fires in Oregon throughout the week amid a historic wildfire event that has burned a million acres and left hundreds of Oregonians without homes.

The rumors of "antifa" setting fires throughout the state began Sept. 8, and quickly spread beyond just social media. Law enforcement agencies -- both local and national -- have dispelled the rumors. Despite that, the false information continued spreading for days as firefighters battled more than 35 wildfires around the state. 

A Clackamas County Sheriff's deputy was placed on leave this week after he was seen on video telling someone, “Antifa mother-[expletive] are out causing hell, and there’s a lot of lives at stake. And there’s a lot of people’s property at stake because these guys got some vendetta."

Douglas County Sheriff's deputies reported their 911 dispatchers were overrun with people calling about antifascists setting fires, or being arrested for arson.

A fake post from the Medford Police Department also made the rounds on Facebook earlier this week, that claimed a member of Antifa was arrested for arson. That claim was debunked as well.

KGW News also received hundreds of calls and messages about the false claims and has spent the week debunking those rumors.

Finally, on Saturday, Sept. 12, Andy Stone, a policy communications manager at Facebook, announced on Twitter the social media giant is "removing false claims the wildfires in Oregon were started by certain groups. This is based on confirmation from law enforcement that these rumors are forcing local fire and police agencies to divert resources from fighting the fires and protecting the public. This is consistent with our past efforts to remove content that could lead to imminent harm given the possible risk to human life as the fires rage on."

So why did it take so long? 

Rob Davis, a journalist at The Oregonian/Oregon Live asked Stone on Twitter.

Stone responded the FBI's Portland office said the rumors were not true on Friday, Sept. 11. When he was asked yet again why it took Facebook so long to take those rumors down -- because local law enforcement agencies started dispelling those rumors Wednesday, Sept. 9 -- Stone said:

"Starting on Thursday, when some of Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers assessed these claims to be false (based partly on what local PDs were reporting), we began applying strong warning labels and dramatically reducing their distribution."

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