Foreign national influences on social media ‘turn up the heat on hate,’ says TBI director

Special Reports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Two former co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission believe foreign nations can influence American culture without many realizing it by using technology and social media.

In a meeting before the congressional committee on Foreign Affairs they stated. “The use of internet to radicalize and recruit homegrown terrorists is the single most important and dangerous innovation since the attacks of September 11, 2001.”

News 2’s Alex Denis spoke with a few intelligence officials in Middle Tennessee who agree.

“There are other ways that they are coming at us, but technology is one way they are attacking our country,” says David Rausch, Director for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

“I will throw the internet under the bus and social media,” agrees Greg Mays, Director for Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. He continues, “There’s been something going on in the country for the last few years where people are just disgruntled and mean and taking it out in the cyber world.”

“It’s kinda boiled to this point where really that’s become our major concern, and there are groups taking advantage of that,” Rausch says.

“So, you’re saying they’re interjecting into the conversation to get everyone riled up?” Denis asks.

“Yeah exactly. Yes. That’s been proven. China, Iran, Russia are the three biggest concerns.”

They both say there’s evidence these nation-state threat actors interject lies into conversations online.

“You can’t go to jail for telling a lie, unless you’re in court. So, we don’t police that truth, and that kind of nonsense is all over the internet and social media,” says Mays.

“And, it’s encouraged,” adds Rausch. “These outside actors will encourage it. They catch on to that, and they manipulate that to really turn up the heat on the hate.”

The tactic was showcased during the January 6th storming of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. They say this is the perfect example of how misinformation and hate helped divide the country.

“They just want the mayhem,” Mays says, “I tell people, if you see something crazy on the internet or social media and you start reposting, you’re working for the Chinese, the Russians, or the Iranians. So, stop!”

Even in Middle Tennessee, they track misinformation about everything from COVID-19, local, state, and federal politics

“There was a statement that came out a couple of weeks ago that Governor Lee had created these internment camps for people who didn’t get the vaccine. Absolute nonsense. Untrue,” Mays explains.

“What I’d love to tell people is just get off of it. Just get away from it,” Rausch interjects. “That’s not where you get your facts. It’s not where you get the truth because it’s not spoken there.”

And policing the problem, they say, is nearly impossible.

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“We’re trying to conduct protection in a free society, and it’s not easy,” Mays says. “We believe it’s worth it. But, along with that freedom comes some responsibility, and we would love to convince people to exercise a little bit of that responsibility.”

While neither believes in censorship, they would like big tech companies to step up and create universal policies.

“It comes down to these technology companies realizing that they have a responsibility in all of this,” explains Rausch. “I know this can be controversial, but you look at what’s going on with Twitter accounts. The former President is off of Twitter, but then you allow a terrorist organization to put information out. It’s like, wait a minute? I get it, but let’s be smart about what they say and [how it] impacts the safety of our communities.”

September 11, 2001, was a day that changed our country and the world. The fight against terrorism has not ended. Some state and federal law enforcement agencies say we cannot let our guard down. News 2 digs deeper with special reports ‘9/11: 20 Years Later’ all day today in every newscast and on WKRN.com.

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