The Biden administration is outlining new plans to combat domestic terrorism in light of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and social media companies have their own part to play.
The White House released on Tuesday a new national strategy on countering domestic terrorism. The plan acknowledges the key role that online platforms play in bringing violent ideas into the mainstream, going as far as calling social media sites the “front lines” of the war on domestic terrorism.
“The widespread availability of domestic terrorist recruitment material online is a national security threat whose front lines are overwhelmingly private-sector online platforms, and we are committed to informing more effectively the escalating efforts by those platforms to secure those front lines,” the White House plan states.
The Biden administration committed to more information sharing with the tech sector to fight the tide of online extremism, part of a push to intervene well before extremists can organize violence. According to a fact sheet on the new domestic terror plan, the U.S. government will prioritize “increased information sharing with the technology sector,” specifically online platforms where extremism is incubated and organized.
“Continuing to enhance the domestic terrorism-related information offered to the private sector, especially the technology sector, will facilitate more robust efforts outside the government to counter terrorists’ abuse of Internet-based communications platforms to recruit others to engage in violence,” the White House plan states.
In remarks timed with the release of the domestic terror strategy, Attorney General Merrick Garland asserted that coordinating with the tech sector is “particularly important” for interrupting extremists who organize and recruit on online platforms and emphasized plans to share enhanced information on potential domestic terror threats.
In spite of the new initiatives, the Biden administration admits that domestic terrorism recruitment material will inevitably remain available online, particularly on platforms that don’t prioritize its removal — like most social media platforms, prior to January 2021 — and on end-to-end encrypted apps, many of which saw an influx of users when social media companies cracked down on extremism in the U.S. earlier this year.
“Dealing with the supply is therefore necessary but not sufficient: we must address the demand too,” the White House plan states. “Today’s digital age requires an American population that can utilize essential aspects of Internet-based communications platforms while avoiding vulnerability to domestic terrorist recruitment and other harmful content.”
The Biden administration will also address vulnerability to online extremism through digital literacy programs, including “educational materials” and “skills-enhancing online games” designed to inoculate Americans against domestic extremism recruitment efforts, and presumably disinformation and misinformation more broadly.
The plan stops short of naming domestic terror elements like QAnon and the “Stop the Steal” movement specifically, though it acknowledges the range of ways domestic terror can manifest, from small informal groups to organized militias.
A report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in March observed the elevated threat to the U.S. that domestic terrorism poses in 2021, noting that domestic extremists leverage mainstream social media sites to recruit new members, organize in-person events and share materials that can lead to violence.