The FBI was compelled to clarify Wednesday after sharing on Twitter more than 100 pages about a notorious anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, “The Protocols of Learned Elders of Zion.”
Jewish advocacy groups including the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee were among those quick to condemn the FBI for sharing the material on social media.
The FBI later said it regretted causing distress by sharing the documents, and by Thursday evening its tweet linking to the documents had disappeared.
Federal law mandates agencies including the FBI to make public certain documents if they are requested by enough people under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.
The FBI accordingly releases documents requested under FOIA through its “Vault” website and then announces those publications via its verified Twitter account, @FBIRecordsVault.
Such was the case when the account posted a link Wednesday to the FBI’s collection of material involving the so-called “Protocols,” an anti-Semitic pamphlet over a century old.
The documents shared by the FBI include copies of “Protocols,” as well as materials about investigations conducted of it during the 1960s by the FBI and a Senate subcommittee.
But the FBI’s tweet — the words “Protocols of Learned Elders of Zion” and a link to the documents absent any context or explanation — was quickly panned over how it was presented.
“While there is no reason to think that the FBI shared this material out of malice or due to antisemitic animus, it is concerning that the FBI’s twitter account did not clarify in the tweet that the digitized file was of historical interest, and released the file without any additional context or description of this work as virulently antisemitic,” reacted the Anti-Defamation League, or ADL.
Holly Huffnagle, the U.S. director of combating antisemitism for the American Jewish Committee, called the tweet a “horrendous error” on the FBI’s part, meanwhile.
The same FBI account issued the shared the “Protocols” documents ultimately released a statement addressing the blowback nearly five hours later.
“Earlier today FOIA materials were posted to the FBI’s Vault and FOIA Twitter account via an automated process without further outlining the context of the documents. We regret that this release may have inadvertently caused distress among the communities we serve,” the FBI account tweeted.
“The FBI often receives information from members of the public, which is captured in our permanent files and released under FOIA law. The FBI must process historical files that were collected in the past, some of which may be considered offensive,” the account tweeted.
The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 requires agencies including the FBI to make records available in an electronic format if they are requested a minimum of three times.
More than 6,000 documents are available through the Vault website, according to the FBI. Few, if any, of the materials shared on Twitter have sparked such a response, however.
The FBI’s tweet linking to the “Protocols” documents was shared on Twitter, or retweeted, more than 17,000 times within 24 hours, and eventually removed sometime Thursday. Comparatively, a July 24 tweet touting the FBI’s collection of documents involving Barbara Bush has only been retweeted 257 times since then.