Pittsburgh shooting draws attention to sites where hate speech flourishes

Hate speech on social media

WASHINGTON — Synagogue shooting suspect Robert Bowers' online posts and re-posts were filled with hate, referring to Jews as "the children of Satan," and Jews and Muslims as "filthy" and "evil."

His posts were on Gab, which bills itself as a haven for free speech. But critics say is a gathering place for white nationalists and neo-Nazis. Additional sites like 4Chan, 8Chan and Reddit also draw racist and anti-Semitic rants.

George Selim of the Anti-Defamation League said his group alone monitors dozens of social media platforms and hundreds of sites.

"Various online platforms have become the mechanism of choice for individuals to share and disseminate vitriolic anti-Semitic propaganda," he said.

Most of Bowers' comments were protected by the First Amendment — until he incited violence, writing, "Screw your optics, I'm going in." Both local and federal law enforcement agencies work with companies like Facebook and Twitter to flag any speech which poses a threat. But there is a limit to what the police and the FBI can do.  

Ron Hosko, a former assistant director of the FBI, said the First Amendment prevents the FBI from simply monitoring social media without investigative cause.

"They're aware, their ears are open. They're certainly engaged with federal, state and local law enforcement," said Hosko. "But there is no FBI component that is the social media police watching all that we say and do."

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