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One of the growing terrorism threats on the US comes not from abroad but from domestic individuals and small groups, fueled by racist and extremist conspiracy theories online, who believe violence is a valid way to express their protest.
A new US government intelligence strategy will help detect the sort of social media posts that seemed to predict the Jan. 6 Capitol attack but were missed by law enforcement.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has begun implementing a strategy to gather and analyze intelligence about security threats from public social media posts.
The focus is not on the identity of the posters but rather on gleaning insights about potential security threats based on emerging narratives and grievances. DHS’ goal is to exploit social media for tips, leads and trends.
So far, DHS is using human beings, not computer algorithms, to make sense of the data, according to DHS officials cited by nbcnews.com
Law enforcement officers and intelligence analysts are legally entitled to examine — without warrants — what people say openly on Twitter, Facebook and other public social media forums, just as they can take in information from reading newspapers. But civil liberties groups generally oppose government monitoring of social media, arguing that it doesn’t produce much intelligence and risks chilling free speech.
“Domestic violent extremism poses the most lethal, persistent terrorism-related threat to our homeland today,” said Sarah Peck, a DHS spokeswoman, adding that all DHS efforts against the threat “are carried out in close coordination with our privacy, civil rights and civil liberties experts and consistent with the law.”
DHS officials say that the counterterrorism case for analyzing social media is strong and that they believe social media can be a useful predictor of threats.
Concerns about government intrusion on free speech are legitimate, said Oren Segal, vice president of the Center on Extremism at the Anti-Defamation League, but the government can hardly ignore the main vector of extremist communication in the U.S. “As a way to gauge potential threats, potential narratives that animate people to action, the online space is where that’s at,” he said. “This is why the insurrection was predictable from our point of view, because the planning and the organizing was happening in plain site. … This is not an easy issue, but one thing we can all agree on is that in order to get ahead of the next threat, you need to go into the spaces in which the extremists are present.”