According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of California, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have been providing user data access to a social media monitoring product, Geofeedia, which is extensively used by law enforcement agencies in monitoring activists and protesters.
The Fresno police department have used another social media surveillance tool to keep an eye on “threats to public safety” by monitoring hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter, #DontShoot, #ImUnarmed, #PoliceBrutality, and #ItsTimeforChange, as reported by Medium.
That being said, Instagram has now terminated Geofeedia’s access to public user posts; Facebook has cut its access to a topic-based feed of public user posts. Twitter, too, has taken steps to rein in Geofeedia, said ACLU.
“Based on the information in the ACLU’s report, we are immediately suspending Geofeedia’s commercial access to Twitter data.”
As many as 63 California law enforcement agencies have been reported to be using Geofeedia. The same has been discovered from responses to public records requests, which further revealed the “fast expansion of social media surveillance with little-to-no debate or oversight”, reported ACLU, California.
The racist implications of social media surveillance technology are not surprising. If law enforcement agencies get to conceal the use of surveillance technology, they also get to conceal its misuse. As such, law enforcement should abstain from using tools that reflect protesters as enemies.
“The utter lack of transparency, accountability, and oversight is particularly troubling because social media surveillance software used by California law enforcement — tools like MediaSonar, X1 Social Discovery, and Geofeedia — are powerful,” said the Medium in a post. “And records from Fresno and several other communities reveal that some have been marketed in ways to target protesters.”
The website further added that Geofeedia’s marketing materials refer to unions and activist groups as “overt threats”. The product can be used in ways more than one to target activists of color. At least 40% of California law enforcement agencies have used or acquired the product, which is alarming.