Déjà vu is a premonition of reliving a past lived experience. Oftentimes, the emotions experienced during déjà vu are reflective of the same emotions experienced during the actual crisis. For us, the sentiments are reminiscent of the period surrounding the July 7, 2016 shooting attack in Dallas, Texas that claimed lives of five police officers during a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest.
The comparison of the environments then and now are eerily similar. Then, BLM had just emerged as a social phenomenon using racial inequality and police brutality as its platform to vilify police on across the country — the distorted message resonated with many across the nation. BLM’s crafty ability to monopolize Facebook, Google and Twitter for the purposes of organizing, radicalizing, and funding protests — including some that turned violent — was like nothing ever seen before.
Today, although the disruptive activities of the movement have been widely publicized, BLM is still employing that same tactic to target police. Recently, with the police-involved shooting in Pittsburgh and ongoing radicalized protests, we can’t help but be reminded of how we felt in Dallas two years ago.
In 2016, leading up to the Dallas attack, based on research derived from GIPEC’s patented technology, we identified several radicalized patterns on social media that sought to incite violence against police officers. Radicalized hashtags such as: #KillPolice, and #F_ck12 were used to proliferate threatening anti-police content.
The day prior to the Dallas shooting, a cartoon-like image of a revolutionary fighter dressed in all black, slitting the throat of a police officer spread on social media without inhibition. When the graphic image was reported to social media, the companies indicated that the image did not violate their community standards — many believe that the image ultimately inspired the Dallas shooter.
In the past, social media companies have excused threatening content on their platform as being protected by the First Amendment; however, the 1942 case Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire established speech that incites another to violence such as “fighting words” is not protected under the U.S. Constitution.
It is our contention that “fight words” also pertains to visual content as well as written threats. Although this legal argument has never been presented as it relates to social media content, we feel that the social media companies’ excuses can no longer be tolerated in the interest of homeland security.
America cannot be blinded by Facebook, Google, and Twitter’s popularity because they these companies have a moral obligation to protect interests of the public. Hence, content that is deemed to be threatening should not only be censored and removed, but also reported to the law enforcement by the social media companies directly instead of relying on the public to report it for them.
Although the companies will argue that there are no legal mandates for them to report threatening content and that they enjoy broad immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — as publicly-traded companies with nearly 1 billion collective American users at risk for harm — the companies have a public safety liability to protect American interests from terrorism (domestic and international).
Social media companies cannot have it both ways — claiming immunity from prosecution as well as condemning companies that support law enforcement. Ironically, social media companies want to disassociate themselves with the augmentation of radicalized attacks in America, but they also want to advocate and fight to shut down companies like Geofeedia that work with law enforcement to prevent such attacks by searching, analyzing and locating threatening social media content in real-time.
The Parkland, Santa Fe and Annapolis attacks might have been averted if law enforcement still had access to tools like Geofeedia.
Social media platforms can no longer be viewed as isolated third-parties when it comes to radical content. We have challenged every legal argument presented by the social media companies, but now it is time of our lawmakers to do their part to regulate social media companies’ behavior.
Congress must require that the social media companies report crimes and threatening content to law enforcement, so the proper authorities can intervene to mitigate the outcome of radicalized attacks that originate online.
Unfortunately, in America, social media remains as the only communications media that is left unregulated, which also makes it the most dangerous considering its reach, influence, and lack of restrictions on nefarious behaviors. Facebook, Google and Twitter have shown that they cannot be trusted to regulate themselves. Therefore, the laws of this country must prevail in ushering-in the necessary compliance, thereby, preventing our déjà vu intuitions from becoming a reality.
Demetrick Pennie is a Dallas Police Department sergeant. Pennie previously sued Twitter, Facebook and Google in relation to the Dallas police shoot.
Eric Feinberg is the founder of GiPEC, a New York-based cyber intelligence company.
Originally published on The Hill: