The technological legacy of the hunt for insurgents on January 6
In the weeks following the January 6, 2021 insurgency, law enforcement and Internet detectives identified hundreds of people who stormed the United States Capitol. Many were subsequently arrested or suffered consequences at work or in their community.
Authorities used various technologies to speed up this process, which was necessary because there were millions of images, videos, messages, social media posts and location data to analyze.
Anjana Susarla is a professor of artificial intelligence and responsible information systems at Michigan State University and has studied the role that technology, particularly image recognition, plays in the ongoing search for suspects. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Anjana Susarla: I would say a lot of facial recognition, but more broadly, even image recognition techniques have been deployed. There have been instances where someone wears a t-shirt with a logo on it, and people have been able to trace that logo to, say, a specific cafe in, say, North Carolina. So a lot of sophisticated fingerprint scans of social media posts, even hotel stays and Airbnb, even evidence came from dating sites like Bumble, when people posted pictures of themselves during the insurgency, so women could take screenshots and alert the FBI.
Kimberly Adams: How much do you think AI and this online detective work has contributed to these positive identifications and ultimately to these arrests of people?
Susanla: Artificial intelligence helps us filter out – if you will – a lot of different images. And then the last step is human intelligence. You want to see it as a triumph of surveillance techniques, then it absolutely is. Each of our phones is really like very sophisticated tracking devices, recordings of apps that people have used. And so I think the FBI subpoenaed tapes of, you know, everyone from Apple down there was writing sites like Speak, but there are cell phone tapes as well. So there is a very intimate portrait that we can create of what they did, where they stayed, where they went after participating in the events of January 6.
Adams: You said it was sort of a triumph for surveillance technology. is it a good or bad thing?
Susanla: It certainly raises all of these questions about what happens when law enforcement agencies everywhere use these same methods. [Facial recognition technology company] Clearview AI reported on 26% increase in use among police services. This means it basically changes social media and every possible online fingerprint. So that begs the question, you know, what are the implications of all these technologies for civil rights?
Adams: Going back to that part of human intelligence, I feel like January 6th happened at a unique technological moment where we had this AI available, people on social media, and a lot of people at the same time. home because of the pandemic who traditionally might not have had so much free time. What did the moment that January 6 sort of happened in the tech development arc mean how it all played out?
Susanla: You know, this definitely comes at an important point in our history where we do everything online. And we leave traces of our lives, much of our lives online. And digital platforms also control a lot of what we see because of the methods used to recommend posts for us or trending posts or how they curate content for us. So in that sense, I think it’s a moment that maybe fundamentally changes our relationship with algorithms and the world we live in. You have police departments that can use Clearview AI, but me sitting at home can also use some of the same methods and work with other people using social media. Does this mean that we are getting a little more control back as individuals? I am not quite sure.
Adams: How would you describe the technological legacy of January 6?
Susanla: Well, an increased reliance on facial recognition, certainly increased surveillance techniques. And it also raises issues about how we monitor online hate speech and content filters. Facebook, for example, some of the civic filters, they look at activity in any group over a seven day period, and they will downgrade to something like a hate group if no hate speech is posted in a seven day period. days, but that may be inadequate because the group dynamics may be different and the way people communicate may be different.
Related Links: More information on Kimberly Adams
This detail Susarla mentioned about Facebook’s content filters – the verge wrote about it during the cover of “The Facebook Files” leaked by Frances Haugen.
While many have focused on social media platforms like Speaking as playing a key role before the attack, The Washington Post reports that Facebook also played a “critical role” in spreading the disinformation that fueled the riot. According to the report, there were at least 650,000 messages on the site between polling day and January 6 attacking the legitimacy of the 2020 election. That’s about 10,000 per day.
And like the professor said, technology has helped people eliminate the millions of images and videos that help authorities find and prosecute the people who raided the Capitol, but the final step is here. human intelligence.
The Huffington Post is one of several outlets that have profiled people who are known as sedition hunters.