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Secret Service investigates Obama poll on Facebook

The poll, set up by a Facebook member, asked if the president should be assassinated. It's been taken down, and the seriousness of the threat is being evaluated.

September 29, 2009|David G. Savage

WASHINGTON — Facebook, the popular social networking website, moved quickly Monday to take down a member's poll asking if President Obama should be assassinated.

The question, "Should Obama be killed?" had received 730 responses since its posting on Saturday. The four possible answers: Yes. Maybe. If he cuts my healthcare. No.

The Secret Service launched an investigation into the threat against the president.

A Facebook spokesman said the Palo Alto-based company was not aware of the poll until early Monday and did not know who posted it or who responded to it.

"At this time, we don't know," said Barry Schnitt, a spokesman for policy. "But we assume the developer has some or all of this information."

Schnitt said a "third-party developer" had created the platform on Facebook that allows individuals to create their own polls. The questions are often trivial, he said.

The Secret Service confirmed that it was investigating who was behind the poll and his or her intent.

"We worked with Facebook to take it down, and we are currently investigating the matter," said Ed Donovan, a Secret Service spokesman in Washington.

Asked who posted the poll, Donovan replied: "That's what we are investigating."

The responses to the poll weren't available.

Threatening the president's life is a crime. The Secret Service said it regularly investigates threatening comments or incidents involving disturbing words or images of the chief executive.

But officials also said that tasteless comments or idle bluster are probably not enough to trigger legal action. The agency seeks to determine whether the person who made the threats had some intent to carry them out or to otherwise incite violence against the president.

Facebook members had their own quick response Monday. A second poll was launched asking whether the creator of the first poll should be arrested.

Schnitt said Facebook tries to keep troubling and offensive material off its website.

"We encourage reporting. People contact us all the time if they see things that are inappropriate. And we investigate all those reports. We take action by taking it down, by issuing a warning or by reporting it to law enforcement," he said. "At the same time, we want Facebook to be open to discuss ideas. We don't pre-approve postings."

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david.savage@latimes.com

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