Terrorist organizations, particularly the Islamic State (ISIS), have become adept at exploiting social media platforms and other online forums to spread propaganda, recruit followers, and call for attacks.
Well-known social networking service, Twitter Inc., has decided to do something about it. On Friday the company announced that it has suspended 125,000 accounts for promoting or threatening terrorism.
“We condemn the use of Twitter to promote terrorism and the Twitter Rules make it clear that this type of behavior, or any violent threat, is not permitted on our service,” the company stated in a blog post. “As the nature of the terrorist threat has changed, so has our ongoing work in this area.”
Twitter also said they have increased the size of the teams that review reports, reducing response time, and are leveraging proprietary spam-fighting tools to identify other accountswith potential terrorist connections.
“We have already seen results, including an increase in account suspensions and this type of activity shifting off of Twitter,” the company said.
The company also highlighted their commitment to partnering with law enforcement when necessary, highlighting a statement by Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James B. Comey in July 2015 when he praised Twitter as “very good and thoughtful and hardworking at trying to shut down [terrorism-related] accounts.”
“As an open platform for expression, we have always sought to strike a balance between the enforcement of our own Twitter Rules covering prohibited behaviors, the legitimate needs of law enforcement, and the ability of users to share their views freely – including views that some people may disagree with or find offensive,” the company said.
Twitter said there is no “magic algorithm” for identifying terrorist information online, but the company remains committed to countering extremist content and “aggressively enforcing” rules in this area.
Social media companies have been experiencing increasing pressure to crack down on terrorist accounts. Just last month, a Florida woman whose husband was killed in a lone wolf terrorist attack in Jordan sued Twitter for giving ISIS a platform.
During the State of the Union address, President Obama said terrorist groups are using the Internet to “poison” Americans and, at a hearing last year, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) referred to social media networks as “an extension of the Islamist terror battlefields overseas.”
In recent years, social networking sites have become hotbeds for terrorist activity. Following the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris, ISIS followers created Twitter hashtags praising “Paris [is] in flames” and declaring “ISIS is attacking Paris.” Furthermore, one of the San Bernardino, California shooters, Tashfeen Malik, advocated jihad in messages on social media.
The Paris and San Bernardino attacks have fueled an increasingly heated debate over the role of US social media companies in thwarting terrorist activity online. Last month, the White House met with top Silicon Valley executives to discuss ways their companies could improve their efforts to combat terrorist use of social media.
While Twitter’s announcement represents a positive step forward, some argue that it is not enough and that legislation is needed mandating that social media companies police their networks for terrorist activity.
For example, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) introduced a bill in December that would require social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to alert federal officials about online terrorist activity. Opponents of the bill argue that government surveillance is not the answer.
Whether or not this kind of legislation moves forward, it is undeniable that social media companies will continue to play a defining role in the trajectory of the war on terror.