NATIONAL HARBOR, MARYLAND — Before getting to the hotel complex hosting the annual CPAC convention Thursday morning, 20-year-old Tabitha Jackson and 21-year-old Teresa Taborga-Urquiola spent part of the morning, like most days, on Facebook.
Jackson said it was on the social network that she saw “pretty good evidence” and “proof” that at least one of the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who have become activists in the week since 17 of their classmates and teachers were killed, are paid crisis actors.
“There was like pictures online of the different crisis actors in Sandy Hook and it was the same person in Parkland, or something like that,” said Jackson, a student at Towson University. “I honestly wouldn’t be surprised, with how much they try to push their anti-gun agenda, if they were to hire crisis actors.”
“On Facebook, there’s a lot of videos of those people talking… It’s emotional stuff,” her friend, Taborga-Urquiola, added.
When the doors to CPAC’s exhibit hall opened a few minutes later, the two students walked in and were immediately greeted with a familiar site: the Facebook logo, surrounded by the social network’s signature emojis.
Facebook paid for a booth at the conservative conference for the second year in a row, Policy Communications Manager Nu Wexler told ThinkProgress as he set up the spacious, carpeted space alongside several other Facebook employees. On a counter, they set up stacks of information cards for attendees to learn about Facebook’s work on “election and government issues,” how to use Facebook Live, and safety tips for protecting your account.
Facebook’s booth at CPAC. CREDIT: Kira Lerner
The annual conservative conference comes at a time when Facebook is facing renewed scrutiny over its handling of Russian bots, fake news, and other conspiracy theories during the 2016 election. After first downplaying the issue, Facebook executives later admitted fault and vowed to take steps to remedy the issue, including hiring people to weed out fake news and reject problematic ads.
But the issues have continued. Last week, the social network highlighted fake news about the Parkland victims. According to Wired:
[Marjory Stoneman Douglas student] David Hogg’s name also appeared in the company’s Trending Topics section. As of Wednesday afternoon, the first story that surfaces when users clicked his name was a news clip debunking rumors Hogg is an actor. But just three results down sat another video, showing a visibly nervous Hogg stumbling over his words with the caption, “This one is David hogg, the video that keeps coming down on YouTube. Seems like he’s been scripted #davidhogg #actor #falseflag #censorship #floridashooting #florida.”
When asked about the social network’s role in spreading conspiracy theories, and specifically the smear campaign calling the victims of the Parkland shooting crisis actors, Wexler said he would not be discussing the issue.
“Facebook routinely participates in events hosted by organizations across the political spectrum,” the company said in a statement to ThinkProgress. “Our presence allows us to share information about our products as well as facilitate a dialogue in which people can share their views and create content to engage their audiences.”
Until Saturday, the company will be engaging with conservatives alongside groups like the NRA, the Heritage Foundation, and Turning Points USA.
“Our involvement is not an endorsement of any particular position or platform,” Facebook said.
UPDATE: In a statement sent to ThinkProgress Thursday afternoon, Mary deBree, head of content policy for Facebook, told ThinkProgress: “Images that attack the victims of last week’s tragedy in Florida are abhorrent. We are removing this content from Facebook.”