U.S. Department of Homeland Security increases efforts to identify social media 'misinformation'

Among other recommendations, the DHS is advised to trawl through social media to identify or investigate potential violent extremist activity within the DHS workforce.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security increases efforts to identify social media 'misinformation'
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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The Department of Homeland Security has increased its efforts to identify “misinformation” and “conspiracy theories” on social media, according to a newly disclosed internal review ordered by Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas last spring in relation to domestic violent extremism within the DHS.

ReclaimTheNet reports that a component of the review was based on online activity.

“DVE [domestic violent extremist] attackers often radicalize independently by consuming violent extremist material online and mobilize without direction from a violent extremist organization, making detection and disruption difficult,” the unclassified report states.

The report claims that domestic extremists “exploit a variety of popular social media platforms, smaller websites with targeted audiences, and encrypted chat applications to recruit new adherents, plan and rally support for in-person actions, and disseminate materials that contribute to radicalization and mobilization to violence.”

One such recommendation for the agency is to increase its “efforts to better identify and evaluate mis- dis- and mal-information (MDM) with a homeland security nexus, including false or misleading conspiracy theories spread on social media and other online platforms that endorse violence.”

A report of the findings of the review has been obtained by ReclaimTheNet, which included the following details:

Every day, the more than 250,000 dedicated public servants at DHS work to ensure the safety and security of communities across our country. To ensure we are able to continue executing our critical mission with honor and integrity, we will not tolerate hateful acts or violent extremist activity within our Department,” said Mayorkas.

The findings of this internal review highlight key steps that our Department will continue to take with urgency to better prevent, detect, and respond to potential internal threats related to domestic violent extremism, and protect the integrity of our mission.”

The report stated its previous report had highlighted that topics such as allegations of fraud in the 2020 election and “conspiracy theories” around Covid-19 would be worth focusing on, adding that the initial report last Spring said that these topics “will almost certainly spur some [domestic violent extremists] [sic] to try to engage in violence this year.”

While the focus on the report has been internal to the DHS, one of the recommendations calls for the creation of a department-wide system to investigate and report cases linked to internal domestic violent extremism. Among other recommendations, the DHS is advised to trawl through social media to identify or investigate potential violent extremist activity within the DHS workforce.

While it’s not out of ordinary for human resources departments in corporations to perform background checks that include social media, it is unclear what criteria the DHS is using to define “violent extremist activity” in its vetting process.

The review claims that “studies and pilots have suggested that certain online activity may represent behaviour of potential concern to national security and could be useful in assessing an individual’s trustworthiness, judgment, or reliability.”

The department has already begun to implement the recommendations provided by the review, ReclaimTheNet reported.

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  • By Ezra Levant

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