As the scandal caused by government mismanagement that led to the Flint water crisis advanced, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder released thousands of official emails. Communications between environmental quality officials, water experts, and the governor’s staff have been the focus of media and several investigations and lawsuits.
More recently, it emerged that the Michigan State Police had been monitoring social media accounts and recording comments being made about the water crisis that poisoned the drinking water of the stricken city with toxic levels of lead. According to the email, state officials attempted to initiate criminal proceedings against a man in Copper City, a town in Michigan’s upper peninsula on the shore of Lake Superior. According to a state police email about a Facebook post: “It’s time for civil unrest. Burn down the Governor mansion, elimionate (sic) the capitol where the legislators RE-INSTATED the emergency dictator law after the PEOPLE voted it down, and tell the MICH (sic) State Police if they use military force, we will return with same.”
The Facebook post referred to the authority vested by law in the state government to install an overall manager of a city and/or its finances, as was the case in Flint when the decision was made in 2013 to switch from water from Lake Huron supplied by the city of Detroit, to water taken from the Flint River. When Flint’s water system failed to add necessary anti-corrosion ingredients, the result was that toxic lead leached from pipes and thus contaminated the drinking water.
According to the Flint Journal, the Michigan State police said that it monitors incidents that “have the potential to result in criminal activity and/or violence,” in the interest of public safety. Reports of threats are shared with those threatened in order to give them “situational awareness.”
Ana analyst with MSP Intelligence was monitoring both Facebook and Twitter to follow comments about the Flint water crisis. The analyst found allegedly threatening statements in January 2016 and alerted a state police post about the man and asked to determine his whereabouts. It was determined that the man who allegedly wrote the threat was on probation for his involvement in a 12-hour armed standoff with police in April 2015. However, six counts – including one for terrorism – were dismissed by a local judge. When the Michigan Department of Corrections sought to pursue probation violation charges against the man, Judge Charles Goodman of Houghton MI rules against proceeding.
Currently, the level of state funding on social media monitoring if not known. However, an April 15 email release showed that more than 30 state government employees are assigned to monitor the Flint water crisis.