Pentagon prepping program to screen military service members' social media for extremism: report

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The Pentagon is preparing to launch a program that will screen the social media posts of military members for “concerning behaviors” amid a broader crackdown on domestic extremism, according to a report on Tuesday.

Bishop Garrison, a senior adviser to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, is leading development of the program, the Intercept reported, citing internal documents. The program would “continuously” track social media content for extremist views.

The Pentagon is expected to tap a private firm to run the program to avoid potential First Amendment violations, the outlet reported, citing a senior Pentagon official.

The program will reportedly utilize keyword searches to identify potential extremist views. Officials are attempting to compile a list of keywords that would not violate freedom of speech protections.

Pentagon officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

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Austin announced the establishment of a Countering Extremism Working Group, or CEWG, in April in a bid to crack down on extremism within the military. 

At the time, the Pentagon said the working group “will make recommendations on further development of such capabilities and incorporating machine learning and natural language processing into social media screening platforms.”

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Earlier this year, Austin ordered a one-day “stand down” of military personnel to address extremism. The order came after Pentagon officials noted that some of the participants in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol were either current service members or military veterans. 

“We will not tolerate actions that go against the fundamental principles of the oath we share, including actions associated with extremist or dissident ideologies,” a Defense Department memo said. “Service members, DoD civilian employees, and all those who support our mission, deserve an environment free of discrimination, hate, and harassment.”

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