Lawyers for the Trump administration also have been looking into ways they can use their legal authorities in response to content they see as illegal or violent, according to a senior official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private deliberation.
“In the wake of George Floyd’s death, America faced an unprecedented threat from violent extremists seeking to co-opt the tragedy of his death for illicit purposes,” Wolf wrote to companies including Apple, Snap and Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube.
“At the Department of Homeland Security, we are committed to safeguarding the American people, our homeland, and our values, which includes protecting our First Amendment rights while keeping our citizens, law enforcement officers, and property safe,” he added.
Apple, Facebook, Google, Snap and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In his letters, Wolf did not reference any specific social media posts or political groups, opting instead for a broad call for Silicon Valley to help “put an end” to attacks on people and property that he said were facilitated in part by major online platforms. His requests for tech giants to take more-aggressive action could face uncertain reception among those who see social media sites as conduits for harm — but also believe President Trump wrongly has blamed protesters for violent acts.
The president’s own online comments have been the source of controversy: His pledge to use “serious force” against some protesters in the nation’s capital prompted Twitter to place a public notice on the tweet, indicating Trump violated rules that prohibit a “threat of harm against an identifiable group.”
Most demonstrations across the country in the aftermath of Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis police custody have been peaceful affairs, and some of the more violent outbursts have been attributed to law enforcement officials or right-leaning militia groups.
Federal officials have filed charges against multiple people tied to a the right-wing “boogaloo” ideology that has gained momentum on sites including Facebook and Twitter. Prosecutors allege three men in Nevada sought to firebomb a U.S. Forest Service building and have charged two alleged boogaloo followers in California with killing a federal security guard.
In the meantime, Trump and his top aides continue to argue that “antifa” groups, or far-left activists, are responsible for looting and other acts of violence. Trump has sought to label antifa as a terrorist organization even as local law enforcement officials nationwide have cast doubt on those claims.
Trump also has sharply condemned protesters who have sought to topple Confederate and other statues and monuments nationwide, at one point tweeting he hoped to imprison protesters for up to 10 years if they destroyed monuments. U.S. marshals this week also were put on notice to protect these structures. Heated demonstrations in Madison, Wis., turned violent this week, leaving two statues toppled and a state lawmaker injured.