Lawmakers demand data about online threats against law enforcement
WASHINGTON -- House Oversight Committee leaders are demanding social media companies take "immediate action" to address a flood of violent online threats against law enforcement, following the FBI's search of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
The lawmakers sent letters Friday to the executives of eight social media companies, including Facebook parent company Meta and the fringe right-wing platform Gab, demanding details about the number of threats against law enforcement. The letters cite a "spike in social media users calling for civil war" and other violence against law enforcement after Trump and some Republican members of Congress lashed out against the FBI.
The letters say these online threats have contributed to attacks against law enforcement, citing the threats that the gunman who tried to breach the FBI's Cincinnati field office earlier this month shared on Trump's social network, Truth Social.
"We are concerned that reckless statements by the former president and Republican Members of Congress have unleashed a flood of violent threats on social media that have already led to at least one death and pose a danger to law enforcement officers across the United States," said the letters written by House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and House national security subcommittee Chairman Stephen Lynch, D-Mass. "We urge you to take immediate action to address any threats of violence against law enforcement that appear on your company's platforms."
The letters request information about how the companies respond to threats of violence, including how many threats against law enforcement were removed and how many were reported to authorities. The lawmakers also ask for plans to ensure platforms aren't used to incite further violence against law enforcement, and for documents about any advertising that appeared alongside violent comments.
Lawmakers also sent letters to executives from Twitter, TikTok, Truth Social, Rumble, Gettr and Telegram, canvassing a mainstream social networks, as well as alternative social networks favored by Trump's supporters.
Law enforcement leaders have been sounding the alarm about threats to federal agents for a week, as top GOP leaders have accused the FBI, without evidence, of carrying out a politicized attack on Trump. The politicians have tapped into long-running hostility among Trump and his followers toward arms of the federal government, which some call the "Deep State." The FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued a joint bulletin last week warning about an "increase in violent threats posted on social media against federal officials and facilities."
The letters sent Friday cite specific threats on Truth Social. "The Second Amendment is not about shooting deer! Lock and load!" said one post directed at the "feds." Another said: "Arm yourselves! We are about to enter into Civil War!"
The arrest of a Pennsylvania man charged with making threats of violence against FBI personnel is also cited by the letters. He allegedly posted on Gab: "Every single piece of [expletive] who works for the FBI in any capacity, from the director down to the janitor who cleans their [expletive] toilets deserves to die. You've declared war on us and now it's open season on YOU."
Gab CEO Andrew Torba responded to The Washington Post's request for comment with links to a pair of blog posts, including one where Gab said it is "considering" its response to Congress and that it quickly responded to law enforcement requests related to the Pennsylvania arrest. The seven other companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
House Democrats are scrutinizing the renewed online calls for violence against law enforcement as they grapple with the role that social media played in fomenting the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. The demands to the social networks come after the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attacks sent subpoenas to major tech companies, after saying they weren't cooperating with it. Social media posts and interviews with tech executives have been included in the committee's recent hearings.
In the letters Friday, the lawmakers also ask the companies if legislation is needed to "protect law enforcement personnel and increase coordination with federal authorities."