ProPublica published an expose about a secret group on Facebook of current and former border patrol agents that contained derogatory comments and pictures posted by participants. Politico has a story highlighting the fact that the Border Patrol has known about this group “far longer than previously reported.” But what Politico doesn’t highlight is that the Facebook group was known and active during the Obama Administration. In fact, the “Obama Administration” isn’t named in the entire story even though the dates clearly show the timeline.
Border Patrol leadership knew about photos posted to the group as far back as 2016, when agents reported them, according to a current Homeland Security official. The images — several of which were provided to POLITICO — show agents engaging in conduct that includes simulating sex acts and taking selfies while defecating. A former DHS official said he was aware of the Facebook group during the past year.
Neither official knew of any serious punishment ever leveled at members of the Facebook group.
Here are some of the things the Obama Administration allegedly knew about going on in the group:
In one screenshot that the current DHS official says was flagged in 2016 to then-Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan, an agent — carrying a gun in a holster — simulated sex with a training mannequin in the desert. In another, what appeared to be the same agent smiled while holding what appeared to be a human skull. The caption made reference to handling “a little human remains” during canine training.
A third photo showed an agent’s unzipped green pants lowered below his knees while in a squatting position, in what appeared to be a selfie taken while defecating in the Arizona desert, according to the tagged location. The image was flagged to then-Tucson Deputy Chief Patrol Agent Felix Chavez, the current official said. Chavez did not answer POLITICO’s request for comment.
A CBP spokesperson told POLITICO Wednesday evening that the incidents were reported at the time to the Office of Professional Responsibility, which launched and concluded investigations. The spokesperson said that due to due privacy policies, the agency could not disclose additional information, including whether disciplinary action was taken.
Obama’s CBP commissioner claims he did not know anything about the group.
Gil Kerlikowske, who worked as CBP commissioner from 2014 until Trump took office in January 2017, led the agency during the period in 2016 when the images were allegedly reported to CBP. Kerlikowske said he didn’t recall being alerted to the “10-15” group.
Regardless of how distasteful the comments and photos are in a private Facebook group, what should be done to the participants? Should they be punished for privately expressing their thoughts? Politico wistfully admits:
But given free speech protections granted civil servants, the anonymity that social media provides, and the participation of many government retirees, it wasn’t clear as of Wednesday that either the Trump administration or Facebook would be able to shut the Facebook group down or punish many of those who joined it.
Should it go further? Can people privately email one another on a list or should that be forbidden as well? Send group text messages? Use their cell phone service to express unsavory thoughts? Facebook is cooperating with an investigation so there’s no telling what might result from the social media thought police.
A Facebook spokesperson said Tuesday the company is “cooperating with federal authorities in their investigation” into the 10-15 group, but it wasn’t clear whether the social network would take any enforcement action against its members or remove any of the posts.
Facebook prohibits an array of harmful content on its platforms, from criminal behavior to hate speech to posts inciting violence or harassing individuals. Several of the posts surfaced from the secretive Border Patrol group would appear to run afoul of those standards.
The post that depicts Ocasio-Cortez being forced to perform a sex act, for instance, seems likely to violate the company’s rules against violent and sexually suggestive content.
Others, in which officers talked about migrants in derogatory and dehumanizing terms, could break Facebook’s rules against hate speech. Facebook defines such speech as any “direct attack on people” based on identity markers such as race, ethnicity or national origin. The spokesperson said the company applies those standards “across Facebook, including in secret groups.”
House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) has inserted himself in the controversy, sending a letter to Facebook claiming that some of the content “appear[s] to violate Facebook’s Community Standards.” Another Democrat, Tech Accountability Caucus co-chair Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) said “It is Facebook’s responsibility to ensure its platform — either publicly or in private messages— is not a refuge for hate.” Is that Facebook’s responsibility? If Facebook wants to edit and curate the content on its platform, if it wants to be responsible, then it’s not really a “platform” it’s a media outlet and should be legally considered as such.
(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)