The Cable

Twitter Just Suspended 235,000 Extremist Accounts. It’s the Ones Still Open That Are the Problem.

Accounts of many known terrorists remain open.


Twitter patted itself on the back Thursday for suspending 235,000 accounts linked to terror groups ranging from the Islamic State to al Qaeda, but the announcement really just highlights how much more work needs to be done to make a meaningful difference.  

The new move came after President Barack Obama directly appealed to Silicon Valley to do more to combat the spread of Islamic State and other terror group propaganda on social media and to crackdown on recruitment efforts using Twitter and Facebook.

But the administration’s push to enlist the companies in its effort to curb terror groups’ innovative use of social media has had, at best, mixed results. Silicon Valley firms are concerned about the perception, especially outside the United States, that they are doing Washington’s bidding. At the same time, they face enormous reputational risks in allowing Islamic State recruiters and propagandists to flourish on their platforms.

They also face potential legal pitfalls: the family of an American graduate student and military veteran named Taylor Force and four others whose relatives were killed or injured by Palestinians in March have filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Facebook. They alledge the popular social media site has “knowingly provided material support and resources” to the Palestinian terror group Hamas.

Twitter has portrayed itself as a willing ally in the fight against terror propaganda. In February, it said it had suspended 125,000 accounts since mid-2015. Thursday’s announcement pushes that total closer to 400,000.

In a statement, the company said the months since its first round of suspensions had been marked by a “further wave of deadly, abhorrent terror attacks across the globe.”

“We strongly condemn these acts and remain committed to eliminating the promotion of violence or terrorism on our platform,” Twitter added in the unsigned statement.

Critics, though, said the company hasn’t done nearly enough to prevent terror groups from using the microblogging platform to spread propaganda and recruit new fighters and donors. Michael S. Smith II, a principal at the Kronos Advisory, a leading open source intelligence consultancy, said Twitter had until recently been playing “lip service” to the use of its network by the Islamic State and its operatives.

Earlier this summer, though, Smith noticed a shift.

“Around June, I could tell that there was something that had changed,” he said. “They were more rapidly identifying and automatically suspending accounts that were promoting content used to promote the Islamic State and its propaganda. They have clearly taken measures to more aggressively address the issue.”

Still, he said, the company needed to go further. Smith said Twitter hadn’t suspended the account of the radical cleric Anjem Choudary, who was convicted of encouraging Britons to join the Islamic State. Two al Qaeda-affiliated clerics in Jordan, Muhammad al-Maqdisi and Abu Qatadah, also still have active accounts with tens of thousands of followers, according to Smith.

“These morons at Twitter don’t recognize that it’s important to close these accounts,” Smith said. “This leaves open the real possibility that Islamic state recruiters are active on Twitter.”

In Thursday’s statement, Twitter acknowledged that there was “a lot of work to do.” Whether that will include suspending the accounts of more known terrorist leaders remains to be seen.

Photo credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND/Getty Images

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