Twitter has since the middle of 2015 deleted more than 125,000 “terror-linked” accounts, mostly connected to the Islamic State group, in an increased effort to counter threats stemming from violent extremism.
ISIS has been effectively using social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, to get recruiters and spread their ideology.
The accounts frozen since mid-2015 were targeted “for threatening or promoting terrorist acts,” said Twitter, which is under pressure from governments to act but is also keen not to be seen as effectively censoring free speech.
“Like most people around the world, we are horrified by the atrocities perpetrated by extremist groups. 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,” Twitter said in a post on Friday.
Twitter, which places itself as a defender of speech rights, said that “we have always sought to strike a balance between the enforcement of our own Twitter Rules covering prohibited behaviors, the legitimate needs of law enforcement, and the ability of users to share their views freely – including views that some people may disagree with or find offensive.”
The announcement comes after the United States and other governments urged social networks to take more aggressive steps to eradicate activity aimed at recruiting and planning violent acts.
Seeking to rebut criticism that it has not done enough to counter extremism on its platform, Twitter noted it has increased the size of its teams that review reports of abuse. It was driving up enforcement by boosting staff and using technology to filter violence-promoting content, which in turn has reduced response time considerably.
“As many experts and other companies have noted, 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 said.
“In spite of these challenges we will continue to aggressively enforce our rules in this area and engage with authorities and other relevant organizations to find viable solutions to eradicate terrorist content from the Internet and promote powerful counter-speech narratives.”
In addition to suspending such suspicious accounts, Twitter is also taking several other steps to fight terrorism, extremism and radicalization. It is using proprietary tools for fighting spam to check for “potentially violating accounts,” which will then be reviewed by Twitter agents.
“We have already seen results, including an increase in account suspensions and this type of activity shifting off of Twitter,” the company said.
A study last year had shown that ISIS’ social media success lies in “hyper” Twitter accounts created by the group’s supporters, stating that ISIS Twitter accounts had about 1,000 users each on an average.
The Islamic State group’s official social media experts disseminated information such as pictures and videos through smaller accounts, which were then shared by other accounts, the study said.
Whenever it was necessary, the microblogging platform has worked with law enforcement agencies and is teaming up with organizations such as People Against Violent Extremism and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue that look to counter extremism in the online environment.
Twitter’s global policy team is also frequently attending training sessions and events concentrating on countering violent extremism.