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Trump administration wants Facebook, Twitter to act against posts about toppling statues

The Homeland Security Department reportedly tells social media companies that they helped facilitate "rioting, looting and defacing public property."

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Statues with racist connotations are being removed nationwide. Pictured: a statue of Columbus on San Francisco's Telegraph Hill.
James Martin/CNET

Amid Black Lives Matter demonstrations that've swept the US, the Trump administration is asking social media companies like Twitter and Facebook to step in and remove posts that encourage breaking curfew, toppling statues or committing violent acts. The news comes as protesters tear down statues with racist connotations, including those of Confederate figures.

The Department of Homeland Security on Friday sent letters to executives at Google, Snap, Twitter and Facebook, saying the tech companies helped facilitate "burglary, arson, aggravated assault, rioting, looting and defacing public property," The Washington Post reported, citing copies of the letters.

"We can confirm we received the letter and intend to respond," a Twitter spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Homeland Security, Facebook, Google and Snap didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Trump signed an executive order later on Friday that he says will protect "American monuments, memorials, and statues." According to the president, there will be "long prison terms" for those involved in tearing down statues.

It follows Twitter last month beginning to label some of Trump's tweets after the president posted that mail-in ballots for the November election would be "substantially fraudulent." That tweet prompted Twitter to apply a fact-checking label indicating that the post contained "potentially misleading information" and providing a link so users could learn more. Trump followed by tweeting that he would take "big action" against social media companies.

In May, Twitter also obscured a tweet by the president about protests in Minnesota over the death of George Floyd in police custody. During that time, Twitter screened out Trump's tweet behind a warning label that says the post violates the site's rules about "glorifying violence." Users can click a button to go ahead and read the tweet. It also veiled a tweet this week for violating its policy against "the presence of a threat of harm against an identifiable group."

The situation culminated in Trump signing an executive order targeting social media platforms in late May. The Justice Department last week unveiled a proposal to amend Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, widely seen as the most important law protecting speech online. The proposal would remove protections that shield social media platforms and internet providers, like Verizon and Comcast, from lawsuits over posts made by users on their services.

Black Lives Matter protests are continuing across the US and globally as people demonstrate against the recent killings of George FloydBreonna TaylorAhmaud ArberyRayshard Brooks and other victims of police brutality, and against systemic racism. 

Black Lives Matter. Visit blacklivesmatter.carrd.co to learn how to donate, sign petitions and protest safely.