- Leaked documents show how law enforcement has kept tabs on demonstrators since anti-police-brutality protests first broke out after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody.
- Police exchanged protesters’ Twitter handles, monitored protest plans in private Slack and Telegram channels, and kept lists of people who responded to protest events on Facebook, the documents show.
- Records also show law enforcement focusing heavily on perceived threats against officers’ lives posted to social media, including planned attacks against police that never materialized.
- The sensitive police documents were obtained by hackers and first leaked earlier this month in a data dump known as “BlueLeaks” by DDoSecrets, a Wikileaks-style publisher.
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As nationwide protests against police brutality and racism stretch into their second month across the US, newly leaked documents show how law enforcement is using social media to keep tabs on protesters.
Police departments and federal law enforcement agencies including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security exchanged information about protesters gleaned from social media, the documents show. Police monitored RSVP lists on Facebook events, shared messages posted in private Slack channels, and even exchanged tips about protesters using encrypted messaging apps like Telegram.
The police documents were obtained by hackers last month and leaked to the website DDoSecrets, which describes itself as a publisher that does not participate in hacking. DDoSecrets then published the hundreds of thousands of files in a data dump titled “BlueLeaks.” Several police tactics revealed in the leaked files were later compiled and analyzed by The Intercept.
The files were leaked from fusion centers, or agencies that share intelligence reports, crime alerts, and information between state and local police departments. Most of the files were unclassified but had not been published previously.
After publishing the BlueLeaks files, DDoSecrets was permanently banned from Twitter. A Twitter spokesperson told Business Insider the site was banned for breaking Twitter’s policy against posting hacked material, but did not clarify why other news outlets that covered BlueLeaks were not similarly banned.
How police used social media to track protesters
As protests against the death of George Floyd expanded globally at the beginning of June, police in the US turned to social media to predict upcoming actions and identify the people organizing them.
One document from a California fusion center lists dozens of protests that police anticipated beginning on June 2. The document notes that information about several protests was gleaned from Facebook pages, and lists the URL of one organizer’s Facebook account (the account appears to have since been deleted).
In other instances, law enforcement agencies shared social media posts that they deemed threatening. On May 29, the FBI sent Los Angeles area police departments an alert about a tweet that read, “See a blue lives matter flag, destroy a blue lives matter flag challenge,” arguing it could pose a risk to officers.
Law enforcement also monitored private messaging channels used by protesters. In at least two alerts, first highlighted by The Intercept, the FBI cites messages sent in closed groups. One alert says protesters “used the Slack messaging app to pass intelligence to the Antifa portion of the group,” and another cites messages sent in a private chat in the encrypted messaging app Telegram; it’s not clear how the FBI gained access to those channels.
In another warning sent to police departments on June 6, the FBI says it’s been tracking “individuals using Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram” who post about organizing protests. The warning adds that “some protesters and possible ‘ANTIFA’ members” may be planning a “purge … to kill law enforcement.” While some protesters did vandalize police precincts at various points during the protests, no such purge materialized.