In September, Facebook broke down its "latest steps to keep Facebook groups safe" in a lengthy blog post (opens in new tab) that included a recap of prior efforts to curtail groups that promote violence. "We banned a violent US-based anti-government network connected to the boogaloo movement and removed 106 of their groups," it said. "We also expanded our policy to address organizations and movements that have demonstrated significant risks to public safety, including QAnon, US-based militia organizations and anarchist groups that support violent acts amid protests."
Briefly included among those banned groups was one known as the Free States Militia, a fairly generic-sounding name as these things go, not out of place amidst the Michigan Militia, Missouri Citizens Militia, or the Ohio Defense Force. It's very different from all of them in one big way though, because it's not actually a militia group at all, but a private Fallout 76 roleplaying group on Facebook.
The creator of the group, named Bobby, told PCGamesN (opens in new tab) that he first realized something was wrong when he tried to check on some lore he'd posted in the group, and found he couldn't log in.
"After restarting my phone with no luck, it became clear my account had been disabled," he told the site. "I tried to contact the other leaders of the group and found they were all unsearchable. We eventually got in touch through a PSN message and all were found to have had their accounts banned from Facebook and our Free States Militia game page removed."
So @Facebook just banned our page and banned all admins from our Gaming group. This is what censorship in the US looks like! When @Facebook cant tell the difference from video games and real life. We just lost 2 years of lore and pictures. @DCDeacon @fchadfallout76October 1, 2020
It's not known exactly what caused the group to be banned, but some combination of the word "militia" and the roleplaying commitment of its members obviously resulted in the false positive. Bobby said group members tell stories in character, and also interact with other lore-based groups with names like the Vulture Raider Gang and the Enclave Armed Forces.
A Facebook spokesperson apologized for the mixup, and suggested in a statement to Kotaku (opens in new tab) that an automation error was to blame. "We have both AI that detects these groups as well as 15,000 human content reviewers, but occasionally Groups are removed in error," the rep said. "If we detect a Group is connected to a dangerous organization, we may remove the Group and associated admin Profiles are disabled."
Ironically, plenty of Facebook groups claiming to represent real-life militias, including the SW Missouri Militia, Michigan Rising, Michigan Whitetail Militia, and the Southern Texas State Militia, continue to operate on Facebook.