Report indicates state-run monitoring of protest-related social media, criticizes official response to protests

In early June dane101 reported on information from anonymous state workers who claimed that an emergency response team operating out of the GEF-2 building downtown had been set up to monitor the social media activity of protest related organizations.

A recently released report (pdf) put together by the Wisconsin National Guard and Wisconsin Emergency Management now seems to confirm there was, in fact, state-run internet monitoring happening during the protests.

The report, which makes recommendations for how the state might better handle large protests in the future and points out specific shortcomings in the response that did happen earlier this year, was released as the result of an open records request made by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The MJS had earlier questioned Capitol Police spokeswoman Lori Getter about the existence of such an emergency team. Getter denied that one had ever been used by the division’s Joint Information Center.

On page 11 of the report, however, a “Telecommunications Emergency Response Team” is specifically mentioned as having “provided essential staff for this prolonged event.” The report also cites a lack of earlier “monitoring of social media during events to anticipate crowd psychology, actions and reactions” as an area of needed improvement. It suggests that state/law enforcement engaged in social media and networking “much too late,” supporting the late May/early June-leak of the creation of an emergency response team.

Other key findings of the report were that there was no clear chain of command early on between the Walker Administration and law enforcement, cell phone access in the Capitol was terrible, there was no pre-event planning or coordination with Emergency Police Services, and not enough information gathering was done in the beginning to better anticipate the protests and occupation.

The report also indirectly chastises the Walker Administration for its failure to release details of the budget repair bill to law enforcement prior to it being announced publicly, and suggests an even more thorough use of social media in the future to diffuse potential protests:

It was difficult to anticipate the public’s reactions when information for the budget proposal was not disclosed prior to release. If agencies were aware of the information to be released, they could have discussed potential reactions and developed strategies to address them. Alternate means of gaining situational awareness of reactions could have been employed, such as social media. A plan should have been developed to allow public information about the event rather than political aspects to be pushed out rapidly via multiple channels including social networks.

Under a section simply titled “Improve” the report makes mention that “when the Governor made mention of using the National Guard to address state employee work stoppages, the tone changed with the protestors.”


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