US Intelligence Agencies Are Targeting ‘Gaming’ Platforms

by State Brief

Last summer, a US Federal Judge issued an injunction on the Biden administration’s contact with social media companies regarding content moderation, writing that it may have “arguably involved the most massive attack against free speech in United States history.”

According to a new government report, the FBI, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other agencies are working with what it describes as “gaming companies” to combat “domestic violent extremist content.”

The report notes that the DHS regularly meets with companies, which “share information with the [DHS intelligence branch] I&A about online activities promoting domestic violent extremism” and that the FBI regularly holds briefings with the companies about what it perceives as threats.

The companies interviewed in the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report include Roblox Corporation, publisher of the mega-popular online gaming platform Roblox that relies on user-generated content, Discord a social media and chat platform that includes invite-only spaces and was the site of the recent Pentagon leak and Reddit, a social media site with sub-communities, including but not in any way limited to gaming communities.

A video game publisher and social media company were also mentioned in the report but left unnamed. The report, requested by the US House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee notes that the FBI and DHS have “mechanisms for sharing information with, and receiving information from, social media and gaming companies about domestic violent extremism” including using “non-governmental organizations” regular meetings and “field office relationships with local companies.”

In the aforementioned Missouri v Biden case, the Fifth Circuit ruled that the White House, the Surgeon General’s office and the FBI “coerced [social media] platforms to make their moderation decisions by the way of intimidating messages and threats of adverse consequences” and “significantly encouraged the platforms’ decisions by commandeering their decision-making process, both in violation of the First Amendment.”

The practice described in the GAO report, regular meetings and reports with the companies, reflect the tactics used by the Biden administration to limit online speech. However, the report does not mention if the FBI and DHS make moderation requests and notes that both agencies are moving with caution regarding their interactions with the companies due to the Missouri v Biden case.

“I&A officials stated that they are refraining from such activities where necessary, while awaiting a final ruling,” and the FBI “continues to proceed cautiously, adding an additional layer of review and approval by the FBI Office of the General Counsel with respect to certain communications with social media platforms,” the report states.

Last March, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) the Senate Judiciary Committee Chair sent letters to several gaming companies, including Valve, Activision, Blizzard, Epic Games, Riot Games, Roblox Corporation and Take-Two Interactive, demanding that they take stronger actions to police gamers and their content. “For years extremists have exploited the community-building aspects of games to spread propaganda, radicalize and recruit users and mobilize for terrorist activities,” Durbin’s letters read, pointing to a survey by the Anti-Defamation League which found that a significant percentage of gamers (29% of adult players of Dota 2, for example) say they have encountered white-supremacist extremism while playing online.

The GAO report notes that some extremists will use watered-down messages on larger, more heavily censored, platforms to draw in recruits to smaller or private platforms where their true intentions can be spoken about openly. While not mentioned by name during this section, this seems to be a reference to Discord, which typically involves invite-only rooms. The report notes that the DHS and other agencies have more difficulty monitoring these sites, as well as audio-only discussions.

While the GAO report notes that the FBI and DHS have programs meant to counter extremism on gaming platforms, it recommended that the two agencies develop an “overarching strategy” to handle misinformation and extremism on the platforms.

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