Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a legal and investigative watchdog organization, obtained heavily redacted documents through a public records request which showed that agents were asked to examine a list of accounts on Twitter and Instagram, as well as OnlyFans, Parler, and Pinterest, for risks to protectees of the Secret Service.
“While social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are known to cultivate toxic political environments often punctuated with violent rhetoric, OnlyFans and Pinterest are not known for threats against those protected by the Secret Service,” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington remarked in a statement this week. “It is unclear why these accounts were being monitored, sometimes daily, as the nature of the threats and account names are redacted.”
The briefing sheets released by the Secret Service come from December 2020. Many cited potential risks on January 6, 2021, the day on which protestors entered the United States Capitol Building over allegations of election fraud. Customs and Border Protection flagged at least five Periscope accounts and sent them to the State Department on the morning of the riot.
The majority of the accounts were private or inactive while at least one OnlyFans account was deactivated by the platform, on which users pay subscription fees and tips to women who post racy pictures, producing regret among many content creators.
“The extent to which the Secret Service and other intelligence agencies are monitoring social media is unclear, but these documents show that it goes further than the boundaries of household name platforms like Twitter and Facebook,” the statement continued. “While the documents reveal monitoring of these new platforms outside of the usual intelligence gathering discourse, they do not reveal whether these were accounts flagged for specific threats or whether the Secret Service or other agencies are routinely scanning large but largely apolitical platforms like OnlyFans and Pinterest for potential threats.”
The Secret Service, a federal law enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security, protects domestic political leaders and visiting heads of state. Agents routinely sweep social media platforms to detect possible threats against officials or their families.
Federal involvement in social media content moderation and censorship decisions was recently revealed after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and provided reporters with emails between ousted executives and government agents. Various editions of the so-called Twitter Files have since shown that federal agencies, particularly the FBI, contacted Twitter about the censorship of so many posts that employees congratulated each other in internal communications for the “monumental undertaking” of reviewing them. The Department of Homeland Security likewise worked with security contractors and think tanks to pressure Twitter into moderating content.
Twitter executives leveraged shadow banning and outright suspensions to inhibit the visibility of certain accounts, especially over perceived hateful language or supposed public health misinformation. Twitter executives insisted that no censorship or shadow banning of conservatives had ever occurred on the platform, while media outlets had spent years uncritically repeating the claims and mocking conservatives who nevertheless insisted that traffic on their pages was artificially subdued.