The Surveillance State Comes For Online Clowns

The Surveillance State Comes For Online Clowns
Photo:RHONA WISE (Getty Images)

Today The Guardian reports on a 14-page document compiled by D.C.’s metropolitan police force called “Social Media Clown Threats,” a reminder of both the bizarre clown hysteria of 2016 and the bumbling surveillance efforts of various American police forces in response to imagined threats.

In the full report, reviewed by Jezebel, officers write of urging local schools to “continue to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity they may see” as they were overwhelmed by largely fabricated complaints and attempted to secure the IP addresses for a handful of throwaway clown-themed social media accounts.

Screenshot:Social Media “Clown” Threats

What started as either a marketing stunt in Green Bay, Wisconsin or a group of freaked-out neighbors in in Greenville, South Carolina five years ago blossomed into a short-lived but pervasive sense that killer clowns were terrorizing the American landscape: A series of viral videos and concerned parents, along with aggressive media coverage, fueled the hysteria until there were alleged evil clown sightings in almost every state. Schools sent out messages assuring families they were “taking necessary precautions” to deal with the clown threat; ahead of Halloween, Target pulled clown masks from its shelves due to the “current environment.” In one instance, hundreds of Penn State students took to the streets with baseball bats and lacrosse sticks looking for clowns that had been said to be lurking nearby.

Naturally, it appears the 2016 clown epidemic was mostly a case of mass delusion fueled by social media posts: The vast majority of confirmed sightings or attacks turned out to be either teens trying to get in on the clown phenomena or bank robbers wearing clown masks. But there were a whole lot of people talking about clowns online and a handful of officers tasked with doing some deep digging on social media to identify and root out the great clown threat.

According to the report, which was acquired through the transparency organization Distributed Denial of Secrets, DC police identified “threats coming from accounts created by unknown persons with profiled pictures of clowns” on social media, including the Instagrams account @snappytheclown_, which posted photographs of men in sinister clown outfits promising “complete annihilation” and the Facebook page Killerclownamber.

The officers additionally recounted an incident in which a girl alleged to have seen two people in clown masks, which was said to warrant “further investigation” as the witness did not feel threatened and did not believe the clowns were armed. The report also details officers’ efforts to secure warrants to gain access to several Instagram and Twitter accounts posting menacing clown content, as well as noting that “Twitter is monitoring these types of accounts” and had “several calls for unverified clown sightings” of their own.

It remains unclear how many warrants were signed to reveal the owners of the accounts and whether these efforts ultimately stamped out the killer clown threat once and for all.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin