Alongside a host of platform governance issues facing technology companies, the exploitation of social media platforms by terrorist and extremist groups is a major controversy in debates about how companies can combat harmful content online. In the United States and around the world, the shortcomings of social media providers in removing terrorist content have increased the frequency and intensity of calls by lawmakers and the public for governments to directly regulate social media companies’ policies against terrorist and extremist content.
Advocates of direct governmental regulation present a straightforward narrative of companies failing to meet their responsibility to police terrorist content on their platforms, and governments intervening with strict parameters, hefty fines, and legal penalties to force them into compliance. To push the U.S. government to act, advocates of government regulation cite examples of these measures adopted by governments around the world. Yet, oftentimes missing from these arguments are thorough evaluations of the state of terrorist and extremist content online, as well as historical assessments of the interplay between governments and social media providers on the question of how to manage online terrorist content.
By reviewing studies of how today’s terrorist and extremist groups operate on social media in conjunction with an overview of U.S. government regulation of terrorist content online, this report finds that stricter U.S. regulation of social media providers may not be the most effective method of combating online terrorist and extremist content.