Days before the arrest of Cesar Sayoc Jr., the man police say mailed up to 14 pipe bombs to chief political rivals of President Donald Trump, teams of Facebook employees were already busy combing the platform trying to remove as much content as possible praising the failed terrorist attacks.
Relying on CrowdTangle, an analytics platform Facebook owns, and other tools internally to scour the network this week, Facebook teams charged with mitigating abuse and working with law enforcement scanned for and took down an unspecified amount of content that glorified the failed bombings and, in particular, the bomber’s choice of Democratic targets.
A Facebook spokesperson said the teams were not relying solely on users to report the content, but would in this case be taking proactive measures to expunge content commending or celebrating the pipe bomber. It is common in the wake of terrorist attacks and mass shootings for Facebook pages to pop up that lionize those responsible. Pages and profiles impersonating suspects are also typical.
Despite Facebook’s efforts to extinguish the content, more and more of it appears online every hour. A profile of bearing Sayoc’s name and using several alleged photos of him, for example, popped up Friday night:
The 56-year-old unhinged suspect, whose van was found riddled with pro-Trump, anti-media stickers and photos of prominent Democrats like Hillary Clinton in rifle crosshairs, was arrested in Florida on Friday after authorities lifted one of his fingerprints from a device sent to Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, according to federal law enforcement authorities. Sayoc’s DNA was also found on at least one of the devices, they said.
The first bomb was delivered to an employee of billionaire investor and Democratic donor George Soros on Monday. On Friday, bombs were found addressed to Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, as well as former intelligence chief James Clapper. Other targets include Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden, among others. A bomb was also discovered Wednesday in the CNN mailroom addressed to former CIA director John Brennan.
While none of the bombs exploded, FBI Director Christopher Wray confirmed Friday they were “not hoax devices.”
In an interview with CNN, the suspect’s former boss, Debra Gureghian, said that Sayok was “anti-gay, anti-black, anti-Jewish,” and that he had referred to himself both as a “white supremacist” and “Nazi supporter.” Gureghian supervised Sayoc when he was a pizza driver, according to CNN.
Sayoc has been charged with five felonies, including interstate transportation of an explosive and threats against former presidents. If convicted, he’ll face up for 48 years in prison.
A Facebook account believed to belong to Sayoc was quickly taken down Friday for two reasons: Facebook is currently cooperating law enforcement whose investigation is ongoing, and the account itself was found to be in violation of Facebook’s policies.
“There is absolutely no place on our platforms for people who attempt such horrendous acts,” a Facebook spokesperson told Gizmodo. “We have found and immediately removed the suspect’s accounts on Facebook and Instagram. We will also continue to remove content that praises or supports the bombing attempt or the suspect as soon as we’re aware.”
Sayoc also had multiple Twitter accounts where he posted dozens of threats against actors, journalists, and Democratic politicians. The accounts remained online much of Friday before Twitter suspended them.
Update, 9:33pm: Added screenshot of fake “Cesar Altieri Sayoc” Facebook account. Added remarks by suspect’s former boss to CNN.