The Department of Homeland Security has its eyes online. Following the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, the agency took to Twitter to monitor the public response, according to a report from Bloomberg that references internal DHS emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“We have all the Districts on standby for the potential Roe v. Wade SCOTUS decision that may be released today,” a DHS supervisor reportedly wrote in one email. The message went on to urge agents to coordinate with their fusion centers—state-run hubs for police information sharing that track “threats.”
The notion of federal agents keeping tabs on social media shouldn’t be particularly surprising. After all, the FBI has been open about its interest in social media monitoring for years. Local police forces also surveil posts. And Homeland Security itself started collecting a wide array of online data (including social media activity) on immigrants back in 2017.
Yet the emails present another glimpse into how DHS approaches online anger. In the aftermath of the nationwide rollback of abortion rights protections, the agency was focused on internet decorum. And, in at least one case, the feds took their concern from the web to IRL.
Madeline Walker, a woman living in North Texas, received a home visit from a DHS agent (and potentially multiple police officers) after posting an angry tweet in the wake of the SCOTUS decision. “Burn every fucking government building down right the fuck now. Slaughter them all. Fuck you god damn pigs,” Walker allegedly wrote in the now-deleted tweet. Six days later, the law enforcement officers that showed up at her door came bearing a letter from Joshua Henry, a DHS special agent at the Threat Management Branch.
“You are advised...to cease and desist in any conduct deemed harassing/threatening in nature, when communication to or about the federal government,” the letter said. “Failure to comply with this request could result in the filing of criminal charges.”
The FOIA request central to Wednesday’s Bloomberg article, filed by reporter Jack Gillum, was specifically for the email communications of the DHS official that showed up at Walker’s door. And the resulting messages confirm that federal agents went back and forth discussing the contents of Walker’s social media. One agent noted, “[her] social media is flowing with threatening and inappropriate comments towards federal facilities and police.” Other officials expressed that Walker deserved a “knock and talk.”
Notably, Walker’s twitter handle (@budweiserbreath) doesn’t contain her legal name, nor does her account profile display any other clear identifying information (though it does note her general location in Dallas, Texas). Bloomberg reported that it’s unclear how DHS tracked Walker down. However, if Twitter provided information to law enforcement, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time a social media company has done so. The social media company did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.