A new report has exposed hundreds of police officers across the country who are members of private racist Facebook groups, sparking fears of the extent that extremists may have infiltrated law enforcement.
The investigation was compiled for months by the nonprofit Center for Investigative Journalism, which found that Facebook knowingly allowed the member-only groups that were presented around openly racist ideas. Some of the groups included “White Lives Matter” and “Death to Islam Undercover,” and investigators from the non-profit wrote software that cross-referenced lists of police officers.
They found that more than 400 known police officers were active members of the hateful and racist Facebook groups. Some were identified by name, including a guard at Louisiana’s Angola Prison and was a member of 56 different extremist groups. Others actively posted about their own cities, including a Houston police who posted a hateful meme about a black woman in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
“A reporter asked a black woman how many Churches had their doors open during the storm??? She said she didn’t know, she eats at Popeye’s,” his post said.
One Mississippi officer, who was a member of a group called “White Lives Matter,” was the subject of a lawsuit accusing him of displaying systematic racial profiling in his police work. The investigation identified members of homophobic groups as well.
The report has caused a stir and comes amid a series of racially charged incidents involving police officers and minorities. Last week, video from Phoenix showed officers threatening to shoot members of a black family after someone had reported that their 4-year-old carried a doll out of a dollar store without paying.
In the video, police screamed at the parents, saying they would shoot them in the head if they did not comply with orders. The video showed the screaming mother trying to explain to officers that she could not raise her hands because she was holding a baby.
As The Verge noted, the report was also alarming for Facebook and other social media struggling to contain extremist elements on their sites. Facebook is still reeling from its failure to stop Russian interference during the 2016 presidential election, allowing advertisements and posts meant to create division among Americans.
1/ NEW INVESTIGATION: Hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers from across the U.S. were members of Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or anti-government militia groups on @Facebook. https://t.co/wfuOj9mFi0— Reveal (@reveal) June 14, 2019
“Reveal’s findings are troubling for Facebook’s ongoing moderation efforts,” the report noted. “Like most of Silicon Valley’s large social platforms that host media and speech, Facebook is struggling to deal with its outsize impact on society; the company has neither the resources nor the wherewithal to combat the flood of hate groups, extremism, and misinformation on its platform. In some rare but tragic cases, activity on platforms like Facebook and Google’s YouTube has contributed to the radicalization of certain individuals who go on to commit offline violence.”