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Tech companies asked to act on protest posts

by Compiled by Democrat-Gazette staff from wire reports | June 27, 2020 at 4:02 a.m.

The Trump administration is calling on Facebook, Twitter and other tech giants to take action against posts that call for people to break curfews, commit violent acts and topple statues in connection with racial-justice protests nationwide, describing such content as "criminal activity" that puts Americans' security at risk.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump used Twitter to call for the arrests of protesters involved in this week's attempt to pull down the statue of Andrew Jackson from a park directly in front of the White House. He also tweeted that he had signed an executive order to protect monuments, memorials and statues.

The administration's requests came in a series of letters sent Friday to top tech executives from the Department of Homeland Security, whose acting secretary, Chad Wolf, wrote that popular social media sites appear to have played a role in facilitating "burglary, arson, aggravated assault, rioting, looting, and defacing public property," according to copies provided to The Washington Post.

Lawyers for the Trump administration also have been looking into ways they can use their own legal authorities in response to content they see as illegal or violent, according to a senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a private deliberation. The move comes as the U.S. government more broadly is looking at reforming laws that for years have spared online sites and services from being held liable for the content posted by their users.

"In the wake of George Floyd's death, America faced an unprecedented threat from violent extremists seeking to co-opt the tragedy of his death for illicit purposes," Wolf wrote to companies including Apple, Snap and Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube.

"At the Department of Homeland Security, we are committed to safeguarding the American people, our homeland, and our values, which includes protecting our First Amendment rights while keeping our citizens, law enforcement officers, and property safe," he added.

Apple, Facebook, Google, Snap and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Wolf did not mention any specific social-media posts or political groups, opting instead for a broad call that Silicon Valley help "put an end" to attacks on people and property that he said were facilitated in part by major online platforms. His requests for tech giants to take more aggressive action could face uncertain reception among those who see social-media sites as conduits for harm but also believe Trump has wrongly blamed protesters for violent acts.

Many demonstrations across the country in the aftermath of Floyd's killing by Minneapolis police have, in fact, been peaceful affairs. Some of the more violent outbursts have occurred on the part of law enforcement officials or right-leaning militia groups.


Trump on Friday retweeted an FBI wanted poster showing pictures of 15 protesters who are wanted for "vandalization of federal property."

He wrote, "MANY people in custody, with many others being sought for Vandalization of Federal Property in Lafayette Park. 10 year prison sentences!"

Trump later announced his executive order. He described it as "strong" but did not immediately release the text.

He also said on Twitter that he had scrapped plans to spend the weekend at his central New Jersey home to stay in Washington "to make sure LAW & ORDER is enforced."

"These arsonists, anarchists, looters, and agitators have been largely stopped," Trump tweeted. "I am doing what is necessary to keep our communities safe -- and these people will be brought to Justice!"

​​​​​Information for this article was contributed by Tony Romm of The Washington Post and Ashraf Khalil of The Associated Press.


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