In July 2019, ProPublica reported that a secret Facebook group created for current and former border control agents was being used as a platform for “racist, sexist and hateful posts and comments”. This group was named “I’m 10-15”, a border control code for “aliens in custody” and had roughly 9,500 members from around the country. The group had been active for over three years and described itself as a “forum for ‘funny’ and ‘serious’ discussion about work with the patrol.”
There are many hateful posts on Facebook, but Daniel Martinez, a sociologist at the University of Arizona who studies the border, believes that there “seems to be a pervasive culture of cruelty aimed at immigrants within CBP. This isn’t just a few rogue agents or ‘bad apples’.”
Just one example of the many inappropriate posts from the group are responses to a news story about a 16-year-old migrant who had died while in custody at a border control station in Texas. Some of the comments included a GIF of Elmo with the quote, “Oh well,” and another response stating, “If he dies, he dies.” Other members of the group have made comments about throwing burritos at migrants and comparing one young migrant boy being carried across a river to trash.
Private Facebook groups are only accessible to invited members, making it impossible for the public to view these posts, even when they violate Facebook’s community standards. While Facebook claims that its standards apply just as much in private groups as public posts, the hateful comments posted in this group call into question Facebook’s priority to police posts that are not public. After the group had been exposed to the public, all of its posts were archived, but the group still exists with a different name, “America First,” along with other similarly vile private groups for border control agents.
In January 2020, the Washington Examiner reported that, in the six months since the Facebook group was exposed, only three border control agents have been fired out of the 62 current agents discovered as members of these hate-driven groups. This is “less than half the minimum number a U.S. Customs and Border Protection review recommended for termination.” The internal review board requested that at least 20 of these agents be disciplined for their involvement in these groups. A senior CBP official shared that while 30-day suspension proposals were issued, many ended only as letters of reprimand. The New York Times quoted Matthew Klein, a Customs and Border Protection assistant commissioner, as saying “[t]he expectations of professional conduct don’t end at the end of the shift,” but the CBP’s lack of action taken against their rogue employees suggests differently.
While some major corporate news outlets, including the New York Times and CNN, have reported on this story, none have explored the story in as much detail as the original ProPublica articles and none have reported on the fallout from the ProPublica revelations. Within ten days of the ProPublica discovery of the Facebook hate groups, both the New York Times and CNN reported that these malevolent groups existed and that investigators were examining the content of the groups. However, since then, both news outlets have failed to follow-up on the lack of discipline taken towards the border patrol agents involved, something which was the focus of the January 2020 Washington Examiner article.
A.C. Thompson, “Inside the Secret Border Patrol Facebook Group Where Agents Joke About Migrant Deaths and Post Sexist Memes,” ProPublica, July 1, 2019, https://www.propublica.org/article/secret-border-patrol-facebook-group-agents-joke-about-migrant-deaths-post-sexist-memes.
Ariana Tobin, “People Are Using Secret Facebook Groups To Spread Hate We Can’t See. We Need Your Help,” ProPublica, July 2, 2019, https://www.propublica.org/getinvolved/people-are-using-secret-facebook-groups-to-spread-hate-we-cant-see-we-need-your-help.
Ariana Tobin, “Civil Rights Groups Have Been Warning Facebook About Hate Speech In Secret Groups For Years,” ProPublica, July 2, 2019, https://www.propublica.org/article/civil-rights-groups-have-been-warning-facebook-about-hate-speech-in-secret-groups-for-years.
Anna Giaritelli, “Only Three Border Patrol Agents Fired for Offensive Facebook Posts despite Recommendation for More Heads,” Washington Examiner, January 14, 2020, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/only-three-border-patrol-agents-fired-for-offensive-fb-posts-despite-recommendation-for-more-heads.
Student Researcher: Kailee Santoro (North Central College)
Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)