The institution of policing in the United States cannot be separated from anti-Blackness and other forms of structural violence. It’s no secret that there are often connections between police and white supremacist groups. In January 2017, The Intercept covered the FBI’s quiet investigation of white supremacist’s infiltration of law enforcement.
Now, a report from Reveal, found that the problem exists online too. Through Facebook groups, hundreds of current and former police officers trade racist memes, conspiracy theories, and engage in Islamophobic rhetoric.
Reveal gathered data prior to mid-2018, when Facebook removed a function that let people download membership lists of groups. The outlet developed two lists: “members of extremist groups and members of police groups.” Then, Reveal ran the two datasets to “find users who were members of at least one law enforcement group and one far-right group.”
They discovered 14,000 cross-matches.
Reveal was able to verify that “almost 400 users were indeed either currently employed as police officers, sheriffs or prison guards or had once worked in law enforcement.”
According to Reveal, the cops they discovered have worked in “every level of American law enforcement.” The report went on to say:
“The groups cover a range of extremist ideologies. Some present themselves publicly as being dedicated to benign historical discussion of the Confederacy, but are replete with racism inside. Some trade in anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant memes. Some are openly Islamophobic. And almost 150 of the officers we found are involved with violent anti-government groups such as the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.”
Although the information may be shocking to some, Megan Squire — a computer science professor from Elon University in North Carolina — told Reveal it was “a tiny, postage-stamp-sized window into Facebook’s skyscraper of data.”
“Charlottesville was planned on Facebook,” Squire said. “Extremists are definitely using Facebook groups to plan physical, real-world events or just to make their lives a little smaller, to find friends.”
Recently, Facebook has come under fire for allowing white supremacy to fester on its platform. In March, shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand left 51 Muslims dead. The shooter was able to broadcast the massacre on Facebook live.
It’s become clear time and time again that Facebook is completely unqualified to tackle white supremacy on its site. Instead of focusing on dismantling these types of private groups, Facebook is “pivoting to privacy” — a move that prioritizes these types of closed groups.
Meanwhile, Black activists on Facebook are still getting “Zucked.” It’s a term that plays off Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s name to describe how the platform censors users discussing anti-Blackness as “hate speech.”
“Black people are punished on Facebook for speaking directly to the racism we have experienced,” Seattle-based anti-racism consultant and conceptual artist, Natasha Marin told USA Today.
Since being contacted by Reveal, at least 50 departments have launched internal investigations. At least one officer has been fired for violating department policies. In some cases, Reveal reported, the agencies said they would “examine officers’ past conduct to see if their online activity mirrored their policing in real life.”
If you’re in a group called “DEATH TO ISLAM UNDERCOVER,” it’s hard to see how that wouldn’t influence somebody’s policing in real life. Ultimately, Reveal’s report shows the deeper issue with policing as an institution, and how online platforms like Facebook allow white supremacy to garner power as it simultaneously punishes oppressed people for discussing their oppression.