The Department of Homeland Security is launching a strategy to gather and analyze data from social media posts to predict and prevent the next Jan. 6.
And while some might be concerned that this might pose a bit of a civil rights problem, never fear — they’re only after “emerging narratives and grievances,” not actual people, as NBC News reports.
Interestingly, there is no mention in NBC’s report on the DHS program of anything other than Jan. 6, not, you know, just to pick a totally random example, “grievances” over police brutality or, say, capitalism circulating on social media and how this may contribute to real-world violence.
Nope, apparently, the only time in the last 4-8 years that “emerging narratives and grievances” have resulted in acts of domestic terrorism was Jan. 6, 2021. (Oh, and Charlottesville.)
Anywho, the DHS’ ultimate goal is “to build a warning system to detect the sort of posts that appeared to predict an attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 but were missed or ignored by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the officials said,” as NBC News explains.
“We’re not looking at who are the individual posters,” a senior official involved in the new strategy told the outlet. “We are looking at what narratives are resonating and spreading across platforms. From there you may be able to determine what are the potential targets you need to protect.”
I mean I’m just saying, somewhere around June of 2020 might also be a good example as to how law enforcement might have managed to protect, say, historical monuments in Washington D.C., but I digress.
“Domestic violent extremism poses the most lethal, persistent terrorism-related threat to our homeland today,” said DHS spokeswoman Sarah Peck, who rest assured us that their efforts to analyze threats “are carried out in close coordination with our privacy, civil rights and civil liberties experts and consistent with the law.”
NBC News explains that while law enforcement officers and intelligence analysts can legally review anything people post publicly without a warrant, actively monitoring social media raises concerns among civil liberties groups who say it’s neither conducive to protecting free speech nor even effective.
Senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union Hugh Handeyside said there’s no clear connection between expressed speech on social media and real-world violence.
“Internal government reviews have repeatedly raised concerns about the usefulness of wide-ranging collection of social media information, but agencies keep barreling forward, wrongly assuming that its benefits must outweigh its costs,” he told NBC News.
“People say inflammatory stuff on social media, but as an empirical matter, that speech isn’t a valid or reliable predictor of violent conduct,” he explained.
Meanwhile, if the government is monitoring social media, this will inevitably lead to self-censorship which is itself an enemy of free speech.
“That leads to the suppression of ideas and discourse that might be deemed controversial,” he said.
The DHS officials that spoke with NBC News insist that they’re simply wanting to exploit social media chatter for tips and that this is, of course, entirely for our own good.
“For example,” NBC News explains, “the official involved in the social media effort said, in the weeks after the Jan. 6 riot, DHS and other agencies observed a large volume of social media chatter promising more violence at the Capitol and around the inauguration of President Joe Biden.”
“That led authorities to expand and extend a massive security presence, including National Guard troops and fencing, that appears to have deterred would-be violent protesters.”
Oh, that’s right, folks — sure, we might be opening a completely Orwellian floodgate with DHS’ new efforts to monitor certain speech on social media but boy, don’t you remember how totally safe we all felt when our nation’s capital looked more like North Korea than America to swear in the Most Popular President ever?
What have we really got to worry about?
In all seriousness, this is really chilling stuff. Remember, President Donald Trump was banned from the two biggest social media networks and impeached all because he used the same rhetoric as the Capitol Hill rioters — not, in fact, because he actually incited violence.
It is very easy to admit that there are many, many genuinely peaceful protesters who fully support the rhetoric of Black Lives Matter who ought not to be blamed for rioting and violence with which they take no part.
In the exact same vein, there are millions of Americans who feel the same way that the Capitol Hill rioters did about the results of the election — but did not agree that the answer was to storm the halls of Congress.
There is also an element of “precrime” here, a la Phillip K. Dick’s “Minority Report.” In the short story-turned-classic sci-fi flick, state-owned oracles predict crimes before they are committed, and people are locked up without ever having acted on their predicted impulses.
If NBC News’ reporting is any indication, it’s very easy to imagine that DHS under President Joe Biden is disproportionately focusing their efforts on speech that aligns with the grievances of Jan. 6 — and many Americans with no interest in forming insurgency movements might air these grievances online.
Conservatives have been casually slandered as terrorists for years — but if this becomes standard practice for the DHS, how long before we’re formally treated like them?
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