Twitter has finally divulged the full details of its efforts to combat Islamic extremism online. A tweet by the company’s own ‘@Policy’ division on Friday confirms that Twitter has suspended over 125,000 user accounts since the middle of 2015. The company targeted accounts threatening to promote or instigate terrorism. Many of the accounts invoked ISIS, or the Islamic State.
Since mid-2015, we have suspended over 125,000 accounts for threatening or promoting terrorist acts. Read more here: https://t.co/FQJeOTtPLz
— Policy (@policy) February 5, 2016
The social media giant’s large-scale suspension operation is unprecedented, given Twitter’s popularity as an online communications platform.
“That’s the first time Twitter has revealed the scale of terrorist related activity on its service. The Brookings Institution estimated in a report last year that there were at least 46,000 Twitter accounts used by ISIS supporters,” reports CNBC. “The new figure revealed by Twitter would suggest that either ISIS has drastically increased its presence on the service since that year, or that Twitter has gotten more effective in identifying terrorist accounts.”
In a blog post entitled, “Combating Violent Extremism,” Twitter’s ‘@Policy’ division outlines its mission statement for fighting extremism online. “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 asserts.
Listing a series of reforms the company has made since mid-2015, Twitter states:
We have increased the size of the teams that review reports, reducing our response time significantly. We also look into other accounts similar to those reported and leverage proprietary spam-fighting tools to surface other potentially violating accounts for review by our agents. We have already seen results, including an increase in account suspensions and this type of activity shifting off of Twitter.
This comes as tech giants, including Google and Facebook, push back against the federal government’s attempts to access user account information under the auspices of intelligence gathering and national security. After former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents detailing the extent of the federal government’s data mining program, Silicon Valley has been under consumer pressure to curtail cooperation.
Twitter’s decision to openly announce its cooperation with federal investigators signals a shift in tone, one that is likely a result of growing concern about terrorist activity on American soil.
“We cooperate with law enforcement entities when appropriate. In July 2015, FBI Director James Comey recognized Twitter’s commitment to blocking terrorist content, praising us as ‘very good and thoughtful and hardworking at trying to shut down [terrorism-related] accounts.’” affirms the company.
Twitter’s online platform is uniquely suited to facilitate jihadist activities. The recent terror attacks in California and elsewhere has placed added scrutiny and speculation on Twitter’s role as a self-policing company. “Twitter’s announcement follows a controversy over the role of social media in the lives of the apparently ISIS inspired team that killed 14 people in an attack in San Bernardino, California, in December,” notes CNBC. “Ultimately, the FBI said that the husband and wife terror team did not post pro-jihad sentiments publicly on social media before the attack, but sent them in private message communications.”
“Since mid-2015, we have suspended over 125,000 accounts for threatening or promoting terrorist acts.”
Nonetheless, Twitter’s decisive actions to confront the metastasization of Islamic extremist chatter on its website may be a response to the very real threat of ISIS infiltration into the country.
While Twitter’s new policies have been welcomed by federal law enforcement officials, they may raise larger information-age questions about selective censorship and free-speech on the internet.