Twitter weeding out terror accounts

Anti-spam automation tools help firm combat online extremism

Twitter said government data requests are rising and about 75 per cent of the blocked accounts were spotted before a single tweet was sent.
Twitter said government data requests are rising and about 75 per cent of the blocked accounts were spotted before a single tweet was sent.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Twitter Inc, under pressure from governments around the world to combat online extremism, said that improving automation tools are helping to block accounts that promote terrorism and violence.

In the first half of the year, Twitter said it had suspended nearly 300,000 accounts globally linked to terrorism. Of those, roughly 95 per cent were identified by the firm's spam-fighting automation tools.

Meanwhile, the social network said government data requests continued to increase, and that from January to June it provided the authorities with data on roughly 3,900 accounts.

The increasing role of machines in fighting extremism is a function of necessity, as manually identifying violent material within the millions of messages sent every day is an impossible task.

Twitter currently has around 328 million users, with about 68 million monthly active users in the US.

Twitter, along with Facebook and YouTube, are instead building automation tools that quickly spot troublesome content.

Facebook has roughly 7,500 people who screen for troublesome videos and posts. It has also funded groups that produce anti-extremism content that is circulated on the social network.

  • 935,897

    Twitter accounts suspended since August 2015.


    Accounts whose data Twitter provided to government authorities between January and June this year.

    68 million

    Monthly active Twitter users in the United States, out of a total of 328 million users.

Twitter said about 75 per cent of the blocked accounts this year were spotted before a single tweet was sent, and that 935,897 accounts have been suspended since August 2015, with two-thirds of those in the past year. "Our anti-spam tools are getting faster, more efficient and smarter in how we take down accounts that violate our policy," Twitter said in a statement.

The company is balancing a commitment to free speech against pressure from policymakers who want to see social media companies do more to fight extremism and hate speech.

While the company is suing the United States government in an effort to report more granular information about the national security requests it receives, Twitter last year signed a voluntary pledge in Europe to take action within 24 hours against reports of racist, xenophobic and violent content.

From January to June, the authorities in the US made 2,111 requests to Twitter - the most of the 83 countries tracked by the company. Twitter supplied information on users in 77 per cent of the inquiries.

Japan made 1,384 requests and Britain issued 606 requests. The Turkish authorities continued a trend of aggressively policing Twitter, making 554 requests for account data. Other governments made only 38 total content-removal requests.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2017, with the headline 'Twitter weeding out terror accounts'. Subscribe