Twitter Responds to Critics, Saying It Has Shut Down Thousands of Islamic State Accounts

For the first time, the company released the number of accounts celebrating terrorism that it has suspended.

(Photo: Èlishia Sharie)

Feb 6, 2016· 1 MIN READ
TakePart editorial fellow Nicole Mormann covers a variety of topics, including social justice, entertainment, and environment.

It’s safe to say we’ve all heard of the Islamic State trying to recruit new members through social media, but the number of Twitter accounts associated with the terrorist group might come as a shock.

On Thursday, Twitter announced that it has suspended 125,000 accounts “for threatening or promoting terrorist acts, primarily related to ISIS,” since the middle of 2015. It’s said to be the first time Twitter has released specific numbers on the amount of accounts it’s deleted.

Though Twitter is known as a platform for free expression, the site’s rules specify that violent threats are not permitted on the platform.

Under pressure from President Obama and others who criticized social media sites for not doing enough in the fight against terrorism, the company, which had left the responsibility of following site rules up to users, recently stepped up its counterterrorism efforts by expanding the size of teams that review reported accounts and suspected terrorist content.

“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,” reads a company blog post.

Up until now, those rules hadn’t stopped Islamic State groups from taking to the social media site to publicize their acts of terrorism, including tweeting gruesome execution footage. The terrorist group has also used Facebook as a means of recruiting new members; Facebook also says it’s working to monitor and keep Islamic State–related content off the site.

According to a Pew Research study, there are more people online who use social media nowadays than those who don’t. Not surprisingly, there’s been a huge jump in the number of young adult users in particular, with the number climbing by 40 percent between 2005 and 2006. Twitter has an estimated 320 million active users a month. Facebook has more than a billion monthly active users.

With billions of Internet users online and combing through social media sites every day, the task of monitoring potentially harmful and violent content is left up to the sites, which give users the freedom to post almost whatever they like. Amid such a flood of data, weeding out the legitimately threatening and dangerous is a challenge.

“There is no ‘magic algorithm’ for identifying terrorist content on the Internet, so global online platforms are forced to make challenging judgment calls based on very limited information and guidance,” Twitter wrote.

While it’s not clear how Twitter tracks and polices terrorist content, the company’s efforts come at a time when the threat of Islamic State–related terrorism is still looming after the recent attacks in Paris and the shootings in San Bernardino, California. Though Twitter is struggling to find the balance between allowing freedom of expression and enforcing suspected terrorist behavior, it says the increase in account suspensions is already diminishing hateful activity on the site.

“We will continue to aggressively enforce our rules in this area and engage with authorities and other relevant organizations to find solutions to this critical issue and promote powerful counter-speech narratives,” the company said.