US authorities to increase tracking of domestic extremism on social media
Affected Countries: united-states;
The Department of Homeland Security plans to ramp up social media tracking as part of an enhanced focus on domestic violent extremism. While the move is a response to weaknesses exposed by the deadly U.S. Capitol insurrection, it’s raising concerns about undermining Americans’ civil liberties.
President Joe Biden s top appointees have called white supremacists the greatest security threat to the country and are pushing for bolstered intelligence gathering. Closely watching are advocates for communities of color and groups that have previously been the focus of intensified surveillance, sometimes unlawfully.
DHS in recent weeks has announced a new office in its intelligence branch focusing on domestic extremism and a new center to facilitate “local prevention frameworks” that, according to a statement, can better identify people “who may be radicalizing, or have radicalized, to violence.”
The overall effort is in its early stages. The department is exploring partnerships with tech companies, universities, and nonprofit groups to access publicly available data. DHS will also train analysts on tracking social media and how to distinguish a threat from the exercise of free speech.
DHS officials say the goal is to better monitor and respond to story lines percolating on social media that could incite violence. With a more focused effort, the department could better assess domestic threats and move to protect potential targets of attacks, the officials said.
“It’s really important that people understand that in this administration, we do not view the mission of Homeland Security to police thought,” said John Cohen, the department’s assistant secretary for counterterrorism and threat prevention. “It’s about protecting against acts of violence.”
Cohen noted that the agency understands its success could be undermined “if what we are doing is viewed as constitutionally incorrect.”
Civil rights advocates care closely following the plan. Abed Ayoub, legal director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said he had spoken to Biden administration officials before and since they’ve taken office about their efforts to combat white extremism.
“These programs almost always end up targeting Black and brown communities,” Ayoub said. He added: “It does seem that the focus…will be on white supremacy.”