Twitter, the mega-popular social media site, has a big fight on its hands: terrorists.
The largest terrorist threat on Twitter is ISIS, also known as ISIL or Da'esh, whose social media efforts have been used spread its message across the globe and recruit thousands to its cause. ISIS is estimated to have over 46,000 accounts on Twitter alone.
Twitter's “tweet threat” team, which has tripled in size just this year, has shut down 10,000+ ISIS accounts in 2015. Some of those 10,000 accounts have been shut down multiple times but keep coming back. One such account, @turjuman123, has been suspended 122 times and is now active once again.
FBI Director James Comey described ISIS's Twitter strategy at the Aspen Institute in July:
“ISIL’s M.O. is they broadcast on Twitter, get people to follow them, then move them to Twitter Direct Messaging while they evaluate whether they’re a potential liaison either to travel or to kill where they are. Then they’ll move them to an encrypted mobile-messaging app, so they go dark to us.”
In the face of such a growing threat, FBI officials in Washington, D.C., have concerns that Twitter is not doing everything it can to combat terrorism. They are urging Twitter to:
“Set up teams to troll, monitor and review all terrorist-related tweets and content. It needs to build up its budget for these teams and let these teams grow even bigger.”
Here are a few examples of how ISIS is using Twitter to spread the ideas of terrorism:
A social media exploitation analyst for the Department of Defense, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the work, told IJReview that Twitter sometimes inflates its numbers to show progress, stating:
“Twitter is actually hurting the fight because most of the accounts they target are only suspended for a small period of time, not actually deleted. Once they become active again they are only contributing to the overall number of extremist accounts that are created each day.”
Despite Twitter's popularity with ISIS, the terrorist group threatened to kill the company's co-founder, Jack Dorsey, for working with authorities to shut down their accounts.
ISIS's Twitter strategy doesn't just end at posting messages of hate on their own accounts. Back in January, ISIS sympathizers hacked into the official Twitter account of the US Central Command and posted this threat to U.S. Service Members:
The threat from social media has presented a new front of the Global War On Terrorism and has created a host of new challenges for both the government and defense world.
But, it also poses a hurdle for the private sector, as companies attempt to walk a fine line between free speech and sympathy to terrorist causes.