Lawmakers Demand Social Media Firms Address Threats to Law Enforcement
WASHINGTON — The leaders of two House panels sent letters on Friday to eight social media companies demanding that they take “immediate action” to address threats on their platforms toward federal law enforcement officials after a surge in right-wing calls for violence following the F.B.I.’s search of former President Donald J. Trump’s home in Florida.
In the letters, Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and the chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, and Stephen F. Lynch, Democrat of Massachusetts and the chairman of its National Security Subcommittee, also expressed concern about “reckless statements” from Mr. Trump and some Republican members of Congress. The statements have “coincided with a spike in social media users calling for civil war and violence toward law enforcement,” they said.
The letters were sent to mainstream platforms like Twitter, TikTok and Facebook’s parent company, Meta, as well as right-wing social media sites like Gab, Gettr and Rumble. A letter also went to Truth Social, Mr. Trump’s social media site, which erupted with calls for violence last week, after F.B.I. agents carted away boxes of highly sensitive documents from Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s estate in Palm Beach, Fla. Mr. Trump had apparently taken the materials from the White House and refused to return them.
As Republican lawmakers rallied around the former president, many of them criticized federal law enforcement officials. Mr. Trump described his home as “under siege” by F.B.I. agents, and his political committee asked followers in a fund-raising message, “Will you fight with me?”
The lawmakers’ letters specifically cited comments from Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, accusing the Justice Department of being “weaponized” against Mr. Trump, and inflammatory tweets from Republican lawmakers. Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, and Representative Lauren Boebert, Republican of Colorado, separately drew comparisons between the F.B.I. and the Nazi secret police. A state lawmaker in Florida wrote that F.B.I. agents operating there “should be arrested upon sight.”
The House lawmakers asked companies to provide information on the number of threats they had identified against federal law enforcement, how many they had removed and reported to the authorities, and whether they were directly related to the Mar-a-Lago search. The letters also asked for information on the companies’ approaches to removing threats from their platforms.
In the 24 hours after the Mar-a-Lago search, Twitter saw a tenfold increase in posts mentioning “civil war,” according to Dataminr, a tool that analyzes Twitter data. On Telegram, a messaging platform that the lawmakers also contacted, the Proud Boys, a far-right group, posted in the hours after the search that “civil war is imminent.”
Truth Social users also posted messages urging others to take up arms and “fight back.” An account matching the name of Ricky W. Shiffer, the Ohio man who tried to breach the F.B.I.’s field office in Cincinnati last week and was killed by law enforcement after exchanging gunfire in an hourslong standoff, posted messages proposing war and urging others to kill federal agents. The House lawmakers cited the episode as an instance of how online vitriol had resulted in real-world violence, and they noted other clear threats to kill F.B.I. agents on sites like Gab.
“Violent rhetoric and personal threats and attacks toward law enforcement officers have deadly consequences,” the lawmakers wrote.
Some Republicans have rebuked their colleagues for the broadsides against law enforcement and urged a more restrained case for defending Mr. Trump. And in a statement last week, Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, defended the bureau’s actions and denounced attacks on law enforcement.
“Unfounded attacks on the integrity of the F.B.I. erode respect for the rule of law and are a grave disservice to the men and women who sacrifice so much to protect others,” Mr. Wray said. “Violence and threats against law enforcement, including the F.B.I., are dangerous and should be deeply concerning to all Americans.”