Identifying Insurrectionists Is Going To Be Easy — Thanks To Social Media And All The Other Online Trails People Leave

from the not-going-dark dept

As Techdirt readers know, there’s a lot of hatred for social media in some circles, and lots of lies being told about why Section 230 is to blame. Against that background, it’s useful to remember that, as their name implies, they are just media — things in the middle of people communicating to others. As such, they are neither good nor bad, but tools that can be used for both. In addition, social media posts themselves can be used in good and bad ways. Examples of the former include the Bellingcat investigations that frequently analyze social media to tease out information about major events that is otherwise hard to obtain. Sometimes, the information is so easy to find, you don’t even need any special skills. An article on Ars Technica points out that identifying the leading insurrectionists who participated in the recent events at the US Capitol is going to be pretty straightforward, thanks to social media:

the DC Metropolitan Police and the FBI will probably need to look no further than a cursory Google search to identify many of the leaders of Wednesday’s insurrection, as many of them took to social media both before and after the event to brag about it in detail.

Things are made much easier because many of those taking part in the rioting did not wear masks, despite requirements to do so in some locations. As a result, the authorities have thousands of really clear pictures of the insurrectionists’ faces. In addition, Witness, an organization that “helps people use video and technology to protect and defend human rights”, was encouraging people to save livestreams of the riots, and to share them with “investigating organizations like Bellingcat”. The Ars Technica article notes:

Neither would an agency need actual photos or footage to track down any mob participant who was carrying a mobile phone. Law enforcement agencies have also developed a habit in recent years of using so-called geofence warrants to compel companies such as Google to provide lists of all mobile devices that appeared within a certain geographic area during a given time frame.

This underlines a fact that law enforcement doesn’t like to talk about: far from things “going dark”, there is more useful data that can be used to identify and convict people than ever before. In this case, it could perhaps also have been used to prevent the violence, since far-right supporters openly discussed their plans online beforehand. But it wasn’t — we don’t know why. This plethora of readily-available information is another reason why backdooring encryption is not just foolish, but completely unnecessary. Today, there are so many other sources of key information — not least the much-maligned social media.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

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Comments on “Identifying Insurrectionists Is Going To Be Easy — Thanks To Social Media And All The Other Online Trails People Leave”

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Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Well, at least the "America’s Dumbest Criminals" series now has enough material to last them well into the 25th century.

What comes back to haunt me, again and again, is the level of utter moron the Trump cult has descended to. It’s as if they’ve brainwashed themselves into devolving right out of sapience.

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Anonymous Coward says:

many of them took to social media both before and after the event to brag about it in detail

Someone who records themselves committing a crime will, almost without fail, end up an internet meme as a stupid criminal. As well as imprisoned, of course. Gotta love an idiot with a cell phone.

Darwin awards for everyone (involved)!

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That One Guy (profile) says:

'We didn't mean stop doing it now!'

Insurrectionists: Social media needs to stop deleting our stuff!

Social media: Oh we’re not, in fact we’re handing it to the police and federal authorities as we speak.

Insurrectionists: … Delete, delete damn you!

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: What happens on the internet stays on the internet...

Some of us did.

I’m waiting to see what the fallout if from this for Parler. My understanding is that there’s a lot of further insurrection talk on there… and that people are supplying proof of their real identities in order to post there.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: What happens on the internet stays on the internet...

" there’s a lot of further insurrection talk on there… and that people are supplying proof of their real identities in order to post there."

Huh – a few fries short of a happy meal, the prize is an all expenses paid trip to the big house, the slammer, the federal pound me in the ass prison.

Don’t stop your opponent when they are making a mistake.

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Bloof (profile) says:

The people who did this were dumb enough to announce they were going to do this ahead of time across reddit and it’s spinoffs and social media, people warned the various agencies they were planning this, but the warnings were completely ignored. These people left a trail on the internet so wide you can see it from space as they were proud of what they did, they won’t be such proud boys when the authorities are left with no choice but to start arresting them for what they’ve done.

And you know each and every one of them they bother to apprehend will be arrested without incident, will smile in their mug shots before being released on bail, they won’t just send a mob of ‘deputies’ to execute them in the street without any warning, nevermind a real attempt at an arrest then have the president crow about it.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: dumb enough

… Yup, this mob of yokels was really dumb in many respects. So dumb that maybe we over estimat their actual threat to the rest of us.

However, the dumb mob inadvertently did Congress a big favor by showing how easy it was to penerate the "massive" layered security apparatus protecting the core of American government.

Imagine what two dozen foreign terrorists (well trained, well armed, well equipped) could have done against the paper thin Capitol Hill defenses.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

seedeevee always complains that Bellingcat is controlled by the deep state intelligence officers, because seedeevee has to post anything to attack anyone who dares ever highlight Russian attacks. It is curious how tied seedeevee is to attacking anyone who highlights problems from Russia. Curious indeed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Bellingcat lied (for example, "draft" opcw mail story). Then pathetically half admitted it. Ex cia officials say that they "love" Bellincat on news articles. Cia is known for lying and misled the congress. These are facts. There are many honest organizations out there doing fair investigative work. Bellingcat is not one of them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Fact – bellingcat published (knowingly) a draft mail from opcw claiming it was actual – unmasking inspector 2 and distorting the context. This was called out as lie and disinformation. Bellingcat had to admit that the mail was not real. Deleted tweets, manipulations, distortions, even bellingcat fall with the Asian false jihadist writing that he was fighting for isis. All facts that can be easily checked.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Don't ID them too soon....

While possible I don’t see it happening to be honest, as I understand it a recent statement of his threw them under the bus and his focus is now entirely on protecting himself so I doubt he’ll risk his neck to provide them any cover beyond verbal support and their best bet is to bank on the legal system half-assing any arrests or prosecutions due to who they are.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Don't ID them too soon....

Oh I wouldn’t put anything past Trump when it comes to stupidity or corruption, however for Trump the question is always ‘What’s in it for me?’ Mass pardons for himself and close family/’allies’ makes (corrupt) sense as that directly and indirectly benefits him, but pardoning a bunch of nobody insurrectionists when the heat is on and doing so is only going to ramp that heat up would make no sense as the gains would be vastly outweighed by the costs.

No, in this case I suspect that pure self-interest will probably be enough to stay his hand, as he’s got much bigger problems to deal with and try to wiggle out of, though admittedly I wouldn’t be too surprised if you end up correct given how stupid and openly corrupt he is.

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Anonymous Coward says:

encouraging people to save livestreams of the riots

…because those streams are "going dark", so to speak. Social media sites are deleting these due to "images of extremist violence", "incitement to violence", etc. Those reasons are certainly true, but are also good cause to reconsider content moderation policies.

Luckily, programs like youtube-dl remain legal and available. Perhaps I should add "barely", given its recent takedown.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

A whole two weeks before he’s slated to be given the boot from the WH, how very principled of them to finally apply the rules to Trump.

Gorram cowards, better late then never but as a comment I remember from who knows how far back noted ‘You don’t deserve congratulations for crossing the finish line if you had to be dragged kicking and screaming over it.’

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Anonymous Coward says:

I know the echo chamber of Techdirt demands everyone hold fast to the falsehood that there was absolutely no voter fraud at all and that this was the most-secure election ever in the history of the world, but reality has a way of crashing in when you least expect it.

And what do you do with the seventy-three million people who saw what happened in this election and understand that there was rampant fraud in four key states? Do you lock them all up in reëducation camps until they conform to your version of reality? Maybe just execute them like other communist regimes do when they take power?

If you think they’ll just slink away never to be seen again, you’re sadly mistaken.

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Rocky says:

Re: Re:

I know the echo chamber of Techdirt demands everyone hold fast to the falsehood that there was absolutely no voter fraud at all and that this was the most-secure election ever in the history of the world, but reality has a way of crashing in when you least expect it.

Wow, seems Techdirt have full control of the courts in the US and can tell them to disregard any evidence of voter fraud.

Techdirt will soon start on the construction of reeducation camps for 73 million people. The camps will have a strict curriculum in critical thinking, but I fear there will be a lot of people in the camps who will consider this torture in the extreme and that will result it them spouting gibberish (which some will regard as an improvement).

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Trump and his cult are the only examples I’ve seen of sore winners, spending much of the last few years insisting that Trump didn’t actually lose the popular vote, even though it was irrelevant to him gaining office. Can you really expect them not to be sore losers when they lose in that way again but without the EC to overturn the people’s vote for them?

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bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I know the echo chamber of Techdirt demands everyone hold fast to the falsehood that there was absolutely no voter fraud at all and that this was the most-secure election ever in the history of the world, but reality has a way of crashing in when you least expect it.

No one is claiming there was no voter fraud. Just that it’s minimal and only pro-Trump voters appear to have done so. We’re claiming there is no widespread voter or election fraud or enough to change the results of the election. It was the most secure election in modern history simply because of how closely watched everything was.

We claim these things based on past experience and what (mostly Republican) governors, (mostly Republican) Secretaries of State, all election officials, many election watchers, lawyers (for both sides), judges (including Trump employees), and election experts have said and the results of several recounts and verifications. We also haven’t seen any real evidence that would refute those claims, despite the fact that there was plenty of opportunity for proof to be presented.

And what do you do with the seventy-three million people who saw what happened in this election and understand that there was rampant fraud in four key states?

First, not everyone who voted for Trump thinks that there was fraud or irregularities. Second, that’s entirely up to them. I don’t care what they do as long as it’s lawful.

Do you lock them all up in reëducation camps until they conform to your version of reality? Maybe just execute them like other communist regimes do when they take power?

Nope. No one is saying that.

If you think they’ll just slink away never to be seen again, you’re sadly mistaken.

Disappointing but unsurprising. That said, they can’t change the reality of the situation, no matter how much they hope or believe that it’s false or wrong.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And what do you do with the seventy-three million people who saw what happened in this election and understand that there was rampant fraud in four key states?

Tell them they lost, and get over it.
Then call them snowflakes, and tell them to fuck their feelings.
If that’s not enough, just tell them the rest of us are just looking at ‘alternate facts.’

If there was any evidence at all, trumps team of "lawyers" would’ve presented the evidence in court, instead of running away. Alas, they are the ones who really sold those morons out.

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Bloof (profile) says:

Voter fraud that only happened in the parts of the ballots and the states that went against Trump, not the house and senate races where an unassailable democratic majority would be incredibly useful, only the top ticket featuring a massively unpopular republican candidate. Voter fraud so cunning that it only happened in cities filled with minorities among whom Trump is about as beloved as porcupine skin toilet paper. Voter fraud so cunning it somehow managed to happen in places where republicans controlled the elections. Voter fraud so cunning the Trump team have been unable to present any evidence of it whatsoever and had their legal teams back down the moment any judged asked them for actual proof because they don’t fancy parroting the same lies they vomit on TV in a place where there’ll be consequences for lying. Voter fraud so cunning that republican donors are suing the groups they funded that claimed they’re able to prove it happened, for not being, in fact, able to prove anything. Voter fraud so cunning even the most hyper partisan right wing ‘news’ outlets like Fox and Newsmax issued on multiple on air retractions the moment the election machine companies got the lawyers involved because their stories were based on 4chan posts and the say so of the son of the guy who runs notorious pedophile and Qanon hangout, 8kun.

They have no evidence, there is no evidence, it did not happen and screaming and committing acts of terrorism will not make your far right fever dreams of fraud and persecution into a reality. They had ample opportunity to present evidence in front of friendly TV hosts like Tucker Carlson, as well as judge after judge after judge, some of which were appointed by Trump himself and they showed nothing and their cases were rejected every single time.

It is clear to everyone with even a lick of common sense that the people parroting these lies are so full of sh*t even the Trump gutted EPA would consider them for a potential superfund site.

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Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Collective effervescence

Yesterday on A Late Show, Elizabeth from Knoxville was interviewed coming back from the raid. She was distraught having been sprayed right in the face with pepper spray.

It was obvious she just could not grasp she did anything wrong that warranted retaliation. She was just going to the revolution (her words!) the same way someone might go to a Grateful Dead concert.

Crowds are weird and dangerous and I don’t trust them.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

The stupidest terrorists

Shave your beard.
Paint your face.
Wear a mask.
Dress in black.
Wear goggles, gloves.
Give your phone to your alibi.
Rent a car.
Steal a different car.
Get it. Get it on. Get out.
Ditch your gear post hoc.
Take a different route home.
Stay out of the hospital.
Got to a different ER (if you must).
Stay out of sight for a week.

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Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: They are Proud Boys, not Smart Boys

Something tells me those boys who are a wee bit brighter come quickly to realize the Proud Boys don’t have many qualities actually worthy of pride.

At the same time, there are some traditional warrior codes of honor that require every footman to ignore the battle plan and simply charge the biggest, baddest enemy they can find. (Which might explain why Rome effectively rampaged through Europe) and the Proud Boys may just be very traditional.

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Anonymous Coward says:

I expect that some rioters will be accused, and perhaps convicted solely on facial recognition. That is, without such things as cell phone location evidence, having a buddy name-drop on them, etcetera.

And remember how well "facial recognition" works, with cautionary tales about ClearView and police departments.

So just a reminder to you law enforcement types, and folks cheering on the use of facial recognition to nab the capitol rioters: Do your homework. Be thorough. If you only kinda think you got your man, you don’t. Accidents cause multi-million dollar settlements, ruin lives unjustly, or let the palpably guilty off because of double jeopardy restrictions. And you don’t want any of that.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It is assumed that your reference to Facial Recognition is the Artificial Intelligence type software attempting to id people in a picture … yes it is fallible – a lot – and that is why real human beings were looking at the pictures and identifying the perpetrators. I think that human identifying is way more accurate than the AI software, but yes, there is more incriminating evidence available and it too should be preserved in the effort to bring these criminals to justice.

Funny news, some geniuses are claiming an AI outfit identified antifa people in the crowd, said outfit denies it.

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sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re: 6-hour Insurrectionists?

Protesting police violence is not the same thing as attempting to overthrow a government.

Indeed. In point of fact, the protesters got what they wanted, a high degree of public awareness and an eyes-wide-open look at police brutality, with resultant decisions by various jurisdictions to re-apportion some funding away from police departments.

OTOH, the insurrectionists (or attempted ones, at any rate), got just the opposite – the Congress Entire reacted in near-unanimity to proclaim Biden as the winner. I’d like to think that Hawley and Cruz, for starters, are about to be the recipients of the same kind of scrutiny as the rioters, but in these waning days of #45, I’m probably just pipe-dreaming.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: 6-hour Insurrectionists?

"Then what do you call 100-day long BLM insurrections?"

public protest is a long-enshrined tradition of the US. But context matters, because just as there’s a massive difference between self-defense and first degree murder…well, maybe not in your mind…there is also a massive difference in people taking to the streets to protest indiscriminate murders committed by law enforcement, and a mob storming the capitol to put an end to the ELECTION process.

So one of those is quite OK and the other one is right out. Because context matters.

"Stalin would be very proud of your article, comrade."

I think he’d be a lot happier with your heartfelt approval of demolishing the democratic process of transferring power, to be honest. But as we’ve gotten used to by now with you people, every accusation, a confession, eh?

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sumgai (profile) says:

… there is more useful data that can be used to identify and convict people

Whoa, not so fast there, me bucko. Nice sentiment, but that’s about as dangerous as giving #45 the nuclear launch codes. Jumping straight from identification to conviction strongly bypasses the Constitutional requirement that a person be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Better would’ve been to say "… identify, prosecute, and likely convict people"

Now that I’ve written that, and pondered it during Preview, I realize that this is exactly what’s been going on for the last 4 years:

a) Jump to a conclusion about an allegation against someone, evidence be damned;
b) Recruit others who also run strictly on emotion, and don’t want evidence to get in the way;
c) Make life a living hell for that person, publicly and privately;
d) Feel smug in your righteousness.

It’s called self-aggrandizement, or in my book, it’s the ol’ "Holier Than Thou" syndrome. Allow me to quote my father: It’s too bad that ignorance isn’t painful".

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Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: it happens often enough.

We’ve had at least a couple of incidents in which a high school student posted (obvious) rap lyrics on his status page, which displeased the high school admin or the local precinct or both, leading to expulsion and jail time.

Are you thinking of something like that, maybe?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"…you’ve been reading Techdirt long enough to know better than to actually think somebody here is advocating for a conviction without a trial."

Not quite true. There is that anti-pirate asshat called Bobmail/Jhon Smith/out_of_the_blue etc who’s advocated punishments without trial or defense for many years.

It may be only that one guy, but that’s surely somebody, right?

Anonymous Coward says:

Its S.O.P. actually.

All this breathless talk from cops and other enforcementeers about going dark and back-door necessity, is pure smoke and mirrors to keep the public thinking it still has a modicum of privacy – and thus, feeling secure, remain at least partly unprotected from the Surveillance State’s hidden eyes and ears.

David says:

You don't get it, do you? This was a test run.

Identifying Insurrectionists Is Going To Be Easy — Thanks To Social Media And All The Other Online Trails People Leave

Identiying insurrectionists is not going to help one bit since the judicial system is too slow to deal with them and the penal system is too slow as well for a meaningful response.

We have a large base of people willing to overthrow the government by force for the sake of Trump. They have seen that an ad-hoc attack will work wonders. A number of actors know that they are now working on borrowed time. They have social media support of like-minded people.

They have, we know that, prepared extensive weapons and bombs that did not actually see use on Wednesday.

On January 20th, Joe Biden will be inaugurated in Washington D.C. Trump will not be present at that opportunity, Pence will. Biden plans to arrive by train, a mode of transportation with known trajectory.

This is the perfect opportunity for a terrorist attack with a large number of high-profile casualties. There is a sufficient number of Trump arsonists with a sufficient degree of criminality and recklessness and feeling of doing the right thing and being supported by a majority of patriots (never mind that this is not really a majority: it is large enough for them to believe that Trump won the election).

You think you’ve seen the worst? I pray you are right. But I really think it would be a good idea to impeach Trump immediately just so that there is sufficient time after he leaves the White House to search for booby traps and implement security that has a chance to be up for the occasion.

Rocky says:

Re: Re: You don't get it, do you? This was a test run.

Some have. They have posited the idea that Biden’s whole presidential campaign was to get a black woman as president, ie. after Biden have been president for a little while he steps down because of "health reasons".

Consider that for a moment and the implications on how they think and what they don’t like. They usually say things like "I’m not a racist, but…", or "I have nothing against women, but…"

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: A black woman for black woman's sake?

Obama demonstrated race doesn’t define policy, given he continued a bunch of Bush policies, including the disposition matrix, lettin law enforcement and national security departments go full espionage (abd not counter-espionage) and letting the wiretap program become a full mass surveilance program.

Harris believed the justice system works and needs fine-tuning when it’s corrupt through and through. Getting her into power, even with a friendly congress is not going to push the radical mass reform agenda the US needs to survive.

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Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 A black woman for black woman's sake?

Obama demonstrated race doesn’t define policy, given he continued a bunch of Bush policies, including the disposition matrix, lettin law enforcement and national security departments go full espionage (abd not counter-espionage) and letting the wiretap program become a full mass surveilance program.

You may find that the insurrectionists’ beliefs about what Obama did as president are not 100% aligned with reality.

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re: You don't get it, do you? This was a test run.

Yes Thad, though I’ve probably not been here as long as you….

My idea was not so much to accuse G.M. of jumping the gun, it was more to addressing a "potential misdirection" that new readers might perceive as "the TD norm". By fleshing it out, I had hoped to leave it without needing further explanation, but alas, I see now that I failed to cover all the bases before heading for home plate. Thanks for making me realize that not everyone thinks like me, nor takes my meaning when I uses shortcuts like this. Time to up my dose of caffeine in the morning!

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