WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is pressing the Chief Executive Officers of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for more information regarding their companies’ policies to monitor and remove extremist and conspiracy content that advocates violence. The letters are a part of Peters’ ongoing efforts to investigate the rise of domestic terrorism across the country, and the events surrounding the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Domestic violent extremists have used social media platforms to communicate and plan attacks, and extremist content – such as content promoting white nationalist and anti-government violence – continues to flourish across social media platforms. Peters is also seeking information about the relationship between violent extremist content and the platforms’ content prioritization algorithms and targeted advertising tools that generate the majority of the companies’ revenue.
“Online platforms continue to be used to fundraise, recruit, organize, train, and plan for acts of domestic terrorism, including in the lead up to the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. According to the FBI and intelligence officials, domestic terrorism is currently the most deadly national security threat. Social media companies must be more transparent about how domestic terrorists take advantage of these platforms in ways that put Americans at risk,” said Senator Peters. “As part of my investigation, I am seeking information from social media companies about their efforts to address the spread of violent extremist content, including how their own tools to encourage user engagement, target ads and generate revenue may contribute to the amplification of dangerous and radicalizing content.”
Although Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have taken steps to address the proliferation of domestic extremist content online, continued reports have identified that violent groups continue to operate on the platforms, and white supremacist, anti-government and conspiracy related content and targeted ads remain on these platforms. Social media platforms were widely used by domestic terrorists to organize and plan the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. More recently, video, including a 71-minute livestream, from a man claiming to have a bomb outside the Library of Congress was posted for more than five hours before being taken down. These incidents, and others, raise additional questions about the effectiveness of social media companies’ efforts to address extremist content on their platforms. Additionally, Peters is pressing for information on the relationship between the companies’ content prioritization algorithms and targeted advertising tools, and the amplification of violent extremist content and the companies’ advertising revenues.
Peters led the Senate’s bipartisan investigation and released a joint bipartisan report on the security, planning, and response failures related to the violent and unprecedented attack on the U.S. Capitol by domestic terrorists on January 6th. Peters also recently convened a two-part hearing with experts representing faith-based, civil rights, and academic and policy research organizations on the continued rise of domestic terrorism, including white supremacist and anti-government violence. Last Congress, he secured the expansion of a successful grant program to help houses of worship and other nonprofits protect their facilities from potential attacks. In 2019, Peters helped convene the committee’s first domestic terrorism hearing with a focus on white supremacist violence.
Full text of Peters’ letter are available using the links below.