Brief # 17 – Social Justice
Department of Homeland Security Sets Sights on Domestic Extremism Online
By Erika Shannon
June 15, 2021
The rise of the use of social media has also led to a rise in crimes that can be tied back to social media. We have seen murders on Facebook Live, events for extremist groups to gather and spread propaganda, as well as events planned such as the Capitol riots on January 6th, where lives were lost. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is aiming to fight domestic extremism and terrorism online with a new Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships, or “CP3.” In a May 11th press release, they announced CP3 would replace the Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention. The new branch lies with the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis, and will attempt to develop the expertise that is needed to produce sound, timely intelligence to combat threats posed by domestic terrorism, as well as targeted violence. They will be working alongside state, local, tribal, territorial, and private sector partners in order to increase information sharing to mitigate threats.
The need for law enforcement to keep an eye on social media for threats of violence is nothing new; throughout the years, we have seen many acts of violence linked back to social media. Last year, we saw Facebook used in the planning of the botched kidnapping of Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer. It is alleged that the group behind the plan used Facebook Messenger to discuss details regarding the kidnapping. The group, known as the Wolverine Watchmen, also used Facebook to recruit new members into their right-wing movement. This past election season, Facebook and Twitter were used to spread the “Stop the Steal” movement that eventually led to the January 6th Capitol riots. The far-right movement was able to recruit members, create groups, and plan the attacks via social media. While Facebook did make an attempt to ban any “Stop the Steal” groups after the Capitol riots, they were only partially successful, as the groups continued to pop up with different names.
There is hope that the DHS’s new Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships will be able to thwart future acts of domestic terrorism; however, there is always the question of whether or not our right to free speech and our privacy will be protected online. What many people don’t know is that law enforcement officers are legally able to examine, without warrants, what people say publicly on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. The new DHS plan to fight domestic terrorism is not expanding on the collecting of our personal information online. Their goal, rather, is to use social media for tips and leads, and to analyze trends. DHS will hopefully be able to monitor when there is a lot of talk of inciting violence on social media, and prevent that violence before it occurs.
While this appears to be a step in the right direction for our national security, there is always the possibility that domestic terrorists find ways to communicate around the watchful eye of law enforcement on social media. There has already been groups finding ways around Facebook’s ban of certain right-wing groups, and there are certainly other ways to plan events without being caught. There is hope that DHS will be able to gather the intelligence necessary to prevent future domestic terrorist attacks from being planned on social media. Only time will tell if the new CP3 will be successful in their efforts to combat threats to our country posed by extremist groups on places like Facebook and Twitter.