The Trump administration is accelerating efforts to monitor social media to preempt anti-government protests within the United States.
According to Motherboard, the U.S. military is funding research into how social-media activity can predict whether mass protests will occur — and the focus of this study is the social-media posts of people in the United States who oppose President Trump. These tools were developed under Obama and used overseas, but under the Trump administration, the target has pointed inward.
This type of government surveillance is dangerous and unacceptable. Protest and dissent are vital parts of democracy that must be protected, not undermined by surveillance — and the oppression that might follow.
For the past several years, the government has been engaging in new methods of social-media spying. The ACLU has confirmed that under Trump, government departments like the Department of Defense, Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security are ramping up their social-media surveillance.
This surveillance has primarily targeted racial, ethnic and religious minorities as well as activists organizing against the Trump administration’s policies.
The new social-media monitoring research the U.S. military is funding has found that extensive real-time monitoring of people’s social-media activity can be used to predict future protests. It’s disturbing that the Trump administration is engaging in this type of research at all, and even more chilling to think about how it could be used.
Hugh Handeyside, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Security Project, has said that “this kind of technology-enabled surveillance of social media will likely suppress dissent and lead to biased targeting of racial and religious minorities.”
In a time when we’re witnessing a dangerous rise in fascism from the far right — and marginalized peoples are facing increasing repression — we cannot allow the government to employ technology that would surveil, track and possibly preempt protests before they even begin.