During the GOP presidential debate on Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a Republican presidential candidate, accused the Obama administration of failing to track two shooters ahead of their deadly rampage in San Bernardino, California in early December because of “political correctness.”
“It’s not a lack of competence that is preventing the Obama administration from stopping these attacks,” Cruz said on Wednesday. “It is political correctness. We didn’t monitor the Facebook posting of the female San Bernardino terrorist because the Obama DHS [Department of Homeland Security] thought it would be inappropriate. She made a public call to jihad, and they didn’t target it.”
Contrary to previous reports, even if the government had monitored the Facebook postings of Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 29, the two perpetrators of the shooting, the agency likely wouldn’t have found anything. The Federal Bureau of Investigations revealed Wednesday that the two shooters did not post support for jihad on social media, Reuters reported.
FBI Director James Comey said that the pair had expressed support for “jihad and martyrdom” in private emails and messages, but that there was no evidence of a posting on social media, including on Facebook. He added that the messages they exchanged were “not public postings.”
“We don’t intercept communication of Americans. We’re not combing through their emails,” Comey said.
“Twitter works as a way to sell books, as a way to promote movies, and it works as a way to crowdsource terrorism – to sell murder,” Comey said, referencing to the militant group ISIS’ use of social media to recruit terrorists.
Comey added that some products are designed so that not even the provider can access the communications while other systems are secure but allow companies to have access if they’re served with a court order, Fox News reported.
Cruz has yet to recant his statement despite the new information from the FBI. But it’s particularly important to note that political correctness isn’t responsible for the deadly attack. The intended purpose of political correctness is to undo systemic bigotry and hate, not to stop using a word or committing to an action because people are perceived to be too sensitive.
DHS is under pressure to create a new initiative to pour through the social media activity of visa applicants to root out potential terrorist threats, particularly focusing on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Earlier this week ABC News reported that State Department officials “generally do not check social media postings of applicants due to civil liberties concerns and therefore would not have seen purported evidence of Tashfeen Malik’s radicalization online.”
But screening billions of pages on social media — especially when it comes to private messages — may not even be possible. According to Fast Company, it’s impractical to weed through thousands of pages on social media in part because “accessing private messages is difficult: The government would need to subpoena the social media site and wait for the request to be approved or denied.”
The National Security Agency, however, has had warrantless access to private Facebook correspondence through backdoor channels since 2010. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden also show the NSA regularly shares this information with law enforcement agencies, including the FBI. But the NSA’s dragnet surveillance programs collect so much information that it’s nearly impossible to determine actual threats.
Police departments also openly monitor social media. The New York Police Department recently stepped up social media surveillance to look for “lone wolf” terrorists. Law enforcement has also used social media to identify and track Occupy and Black Lives Matter protesters.
Facebook has already agreed to flag and remove terror-related content, with a spokesperson saying that the company has “zero tolerance” for terrorist or terror propaganda, the publication noted.