Twitter officials announced on Friday that nearly 125,000 accounts with links to ISIS over the past six months were suspended by them. It was the first time Twitter shared specifics on the number of accounts it has deleted. Twitter has suspended over 125,000 accounts for threatening or promoting terrorist acts since mid-2015. The social media firm also highlighted its cooperation with law enforcement, when appropriate, citing comments made by FBI Director James Comey last year recognizing Twitter’s commitment to blocking terrorist content.
Twitter has come under fire for its handling of extremist groups’ accounts. Citing ISIS’ “unfettered ability to maintain official Twitter accounts,” the widow of an American killed last year in an attack at a police training center in Jordan has sued the social media company for allowing the group to spread its message. A study released by the Brookings Institution in March 2015 warned that ISIS supporters may be operating more than 46,000 Twitter accounts. The study found that almost one in five ISIS supporters selected English as their primary language when using Twitter. Three quarters selected Arabic.
The Islamic State — also known as ISIL or ISIS — use popular Internet services such as Twitter and Facebook to spread propaganda and to attract and train new recruits. The extremist group has used Twitter to celebrate terrorist attacks and publicize executions. Twitter says it does not permit tweets that promote terrorism or make violent threats. It relies on users to alert the company about violations to its policies. The San Francisco-based social media service said it has expanded its team to comb through suspect accounts and to root out automated accounts that publish extremist views to react more swiftly to terrorist content on the service.
Facebook says it also works aggressively to keep terrorist content off the service as soon as it becomes aware of it and has explored using technology to root out ISIL content. At the World Economic Forum last month in Davos, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg suggested spreading anti-ISIL content to counter ISIL on Facebook. Twitter and other Internet companies have been reluctant to discuss the details of how they police extremist content because of the difficult judgment calls they must make in removing individual posts and accounts. That’s especially true at Twitter, which has pitched itself as a place for open debate and free speech.
U.S. government officials and major tech companies met in Silicon Valley last month to discuss how to stop ISIS from recruiting terrorists on social media. The Obama administration had asked the companies to develop “techniques to detect and measure radicalization.” Donald Trump has called for a shutdown of the Internet in certain areas to stop the spread of terror. He recommended that the U.S. government hold a discussion with Bill Gates to shut off parts of the Internet.