Twitter shuts down 125,000 accounts linked to terrorism

 A 3D-printed Twitter logo is seen on a keyboard in front of a computer screen on which an Islamic State flag is displayed.
A 3D-printed Twitter logo is seen on a keyboard in front of a computer screen on which an Islamic State flag is displayed. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • For years, Twitter has positioned itself as a "global town square" that is open to discourse from all. And for years, extremist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have taken advantage of that stance, using Twitter as a place to spread their messages.

Twitter has now made it clear that it is stepping up its fight to stem that tide.

It said last Friday that it had suspended more than 125,000 accounts since the middle of last year for promoting or threatening terrorism, marking its progress after several meetings with high-level government officials about the growing influence of ISIS.

The company said in a blog post that it also has increased the size of its teams that review reports of terrorist activity on the social media website and has cooperated with law enforcement when it suspects from tweets that users are involved in terrorist activities.

"We condemn the use of Twitter to promote terrorism and the Twitter Rules make it clear that this type of behaviour, or any violent threat, is not permitted on our service," the San Francisco- based company said.

"As the nature of the terrorist threat has changed, so has our ongoing work in this area."

Twitter's action comes after a meeting last month in Silicon Valley among White House officials and technology company executives that included discussions about how to combat the use of social media by terrorists, according to a senior Obama administration official.

The scrutiny has grown after mass shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, California, last year, because of concerns that radicalisations can be accelerated by extremist postings on the Web and social media.

"Twitter works as a way to sell books, as a way to promote movies, and it works as a way to crowdsource terrorism - to sell murder," Mr James Comey Jr, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said at a news conference in New York last December.

Twitter appears to be heavily used by ISIS - so much so that some Twitter accounts linked to the group half-jokingly put the location on their profile as "Wilayat Twitter", or "the province of Twitter". When recruiting new members begins to get more serious, ISIS members tend to shift to encrypted messaging services like Telegram, Signal and Surespot, which are less susceptible to being intercepted by intelligence agencies like the FBI.

It's a more proactive stance for Twitter, which generally removes content only after it has been flagged by other users in order to continue to promote free speech on the platform.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 07, 2016, with the headline 'Twitter shuts down 125,000 accounts linked to terrorism'. Print Edition | Subscribe