WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following previous letters to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube on the rise in violent extremist content on their platforms, U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is pressing the Chief Executive Officer of TikTok for more information regarding the company’s policies to monitor and remove extremist and conspiracy content that advocates violence. Peters also asked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) about their policies and guidelines for countering the threat of domestic extremism on social media, while protecting civil rights and liberties. Peters’ letter to TikTok follows recent reports that the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis warned counterterrorism and law enforcement partners in April that TikTok was used by domestic violent extremists to spread violent content, including around the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The letters are a part of Peters’ ongoing efforts to investigate the rise of domestic terrorism across the country, and the events surrounding January 6th. Peters is also seeking information about the relationship between violent extremist content and social media platforms’ content prioritization algorithms and targeted advertising tools that generate the majority of the companies’ revenue.
“Our national security agencies have called domestic terrorism the most deadly threat to our nation. As domestic violent extremists continue to use social media and targeted advertising to spread hateful ideologies and organize attacks, these companies must do a better job of monitoring and preventing the proliferation of hateful ideologies such as white nationalist and anti-government rhetoric on their platforms,” said Senator Peters. “I also remain concerned that after failing to identify and prepare for the attack on the Capitol as it was planned in plain sight online, DHS and FBI have still not taken the necessary steps to align their resources to eliminate this deadly threat, while protecting the rights and liberties of Americans.”
Although social media companies 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 also widely used to organize and plan the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. Last week, a former Facebook employee testified before Congress about how Facebook’s algorithms and tailored ad services amplify and monetize extreme content, raising additional questions about the effectiveness of social media companies’ efforts to address harmful content on their platforms. Although DHS and FBI have taken steps to analyze intelligence about domestic terror threats from public social media posts since the events of January 6th, concerns still exist over whether they have effectively allocated resources to combat the rapid spread of domestic extremism on online platforms.
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’ letters are available using the links below.