The Plain View Project (PVP), a cop watch group disguised as a reputable research organization, analyzed the Facebook accounts of thousands of police officers across eight U.S. cities, including Philadelphia, Dallas, St. Louis, Phoenix, York, PA, Twin Falls, ID, Dennison, TX and Lake County, FL. On June 1, 2019 the Plain View Project study was published online as a database. This resulted in immediate internal affairs investigations, officers placed on desk duty and mandatory sensitivity training. The media enthusiastically reported that thousands of officers endorsed violence against Muslims, women, and criminal defendants. The ACLU is outraged, CAIR is making demands and an assortment of social justice protesters started marching. Everyone is calling for police to be fired. That is how a successful information operation works.
At first glance the results of the so-called systemic look at officers on social media seems indefensible. However, a closer look reveals an extreme left wing biased, major flaws in the research and a calculated manipulation of data to skew the results. Comments were cherry picked, taken out of context and the data is presented in a way to make it look like all the comments in the posts were written by officers when most were posted by civilians on long comment threads. It is obvious that the project was designed to make officers look bad. It is a classic cop watch hit job dressed up as a legitimate research study.
What the PVP and the media are not disclosing is that many of the posts were in response to disturbing incidents. For example, officers posted links to videos and articles immediately after terrorist attacks, when people were killed during robberies, when children were raped, when officers were killed, and after reports of officers having their home addresses and family information made public. Others were in response to horrific homicides involving torture and dismemberment.
Some posts had no obvious racist, sexist or religious bias of any kind and were inexplicably included because they supported conservative issues, politicians and commentators. For example, many officers were included in the database for sharing links to news articles and videos of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Pamela Geller, Brigitte Gabriel, Allen West and others or for linking to articles in conservative publications such as Breitbart, Fox News, Frontpage Mag, MEMRI, Townhall and others.
Some posts were clearly written for officer safety. For example, a picture of Antifa protesters holding wooden wall studs was accompanied by an officers’ comment “Notice the nails in the ends of the Antifa Sticks. That’s called a weapon, they use them to stab police horses.” A responder’s comment was provocative but not the officer who posted it. Another officer was put in the database because he shared a link to an article headlined “Armed Antifa Calls for Property Seizures, Violence on Police”.
Many officers Facebook pages were flagged simply because their profile picture was the Blue Lives Matter Punisher skull symbol. The punisher logo originated in Marvel comic books signifying a vigilante character and has since come to represent justice and brotherhood for military and law enforcement and to honor officers who have given their lives in the line of duty. Similar to other patriotic, historic and religious symbols it has become a controversial issue for liberals who interpret the symbol as a threat. The punisher symbol is frequently depicted with the Bible verse Romans 13:4 which is also popular with law enforcement. The Bible verse atop a blue thin line badge was flagged in the study. Officers are under scrutiny by internal affairs because some researcher on the PVP review committee was offended by tributes to fallen officers.
The information provided on the PVP website that describes their research methodology is highly suspicious. They appear to have little to no knowledge of how to conduct basic research and even less experience in the analysis of social media case studies. Plain View Project research contains an obvious bias toward verification, that is, it appears to confirm the researcher’s preconceived notions that police are racist, Islamophobic, sexist and violent. The data collection methods are problematic, subjective and have no defined limitations.
There are so many significant flaws in this methodology that it should have never been published much less accepted as verifiable. PVP did not factor in the distinctions between active duty, former and retired officer employment status. This is significant because the problematic posts were primarily from former officers. The distinction between former and retired is important because former means they may have previously been identified and received disciplinary action or dismissed from the force. PVP data collection included posts that were written nine years ago, which indicates researchers were unscientifically searching for any data they thought would support their desired results.
For a study to be objective the sample police departments need to be random. PVP claimed that the departments were chosen to reflect a range of sizes and geographic regions, but that range depends on the criteria used. The police departments they included in their study were all in states that are politically important for upcoming elections and many involved high-profile fatal officer involved shootings. The states chosen for the research all went to President Trump in the 2016 election suggesting a political component to the study.
There was also obvious anti-Trump bias in the review. There was a significant amount of posts flagged because they were Trump supporters and/or agreed with his law enforcement policies. One post was from an officer who complimented President Trump for calling the husband of a murdered Orlando officer and negatively compared him to the former president. Another post was from an officer who agreed with and shared a video of President Trump referring to MS-13 gang members as animals. One Facebook post was inexplicably flagged for depicting a photo of a Chicago Police officer whose head and face was bloodied after he was injured by protesters at a scheduled Trump election event.
The anti-Trump, anti-conservative bias reveals another significant flaw in the alleged study. PVP does not disclose who or how they assessed the Facebook comments. A legitimate study would have a strategy for analyzing and interpreting the data and would have listed the specific criteria that was used in the assessment. Their interpretation of racist, misogynist, Islamophobic posts was extremely skewed.
A more insidious agenda is exposed in the database search categories and page information which include; officer’s name, rank, badge number, salary and employment status. Publishing officers’ salaries and badge numbers is classic anti-police group tactics and has no obvious relevance except to incite resentment and target the police officers listed. A badge number is an exclusive identifier that the officer maintains for life. Listing the badge number, forever puts a bullseye on that officers back. Cop Watch, a network of activist organizations, that document police activity often maintain similar databases online. This may explain why PVP has a long disclaimer that users must agree to prior to using the database.
The project is reportedly the idea of Emily Baker-White, whose twitter account reads “I study: criminal justice, hate, disinformation, social media // I love: food, music, nature // I am: exec. dir. Plain View Project, HLS ‘15, Truman scholar. The young Harvard Law School graduate is described in the media as a Philadelphia based lawyer who claims that her group found a very high and concerning number of posts that appear to endorse, celebrate or glorify violence and vigilantism. Baker-White, admitted in an interview with the New York Times that “It’s not a statistical sample; it’s not a statistical study”. In the same article the PVP study is misrepresented as a statistical study with the following results; “About one in five of the current officers, including many in supervisory roles, and more than two in five former officers, used content that was racist, misogynist, Islamophobic or otherwise biased, or that undermined the concept of due process, the project found. If this were a legitimate research study that would be extremely disturbing percentages.
Emily Baker-White, claimed that her motivation was based on the belief that the comments and posts “could undermine public trust and confidence in our police.” Mission accomplished. By posting and publicizing cherry-picked comments out of context PVP succeeded in undermining the trust and confidence in police. For that she has been rewarded. The Dallas Police Department is working with her to go over each post to see if department policy was violated. She has now become the arbiter of free speech and the heroine of the cop watch movement.
Information operations, also known as influence operations, includes the dissemination of propaganda in pursuit of a competitive advantage over an opponent. The Plain View Project was a calculated anti-police information operation that was designed to incite hatred for police officers, provide party-line propaganda for the media and to ignite protests just in time for the 2020 election. It has all the hallmarks of being funded by a left wing political mega-donor. If Baker-White, were really concerned, she would have taken her results to the police departments for internal reviews, but she had an obvious political agenda which I have no doubt she was paid very well for. If one officer is injured or killed because they were included in this biased junk science database, then Emily Baker-White has blood on her hands.