Twitter Finally Cracks Down on Terror Accounts
Twitter has always been under pressure by governments, celebrities, public figures and the private sector for paying little attention to terror accounts and extremist content. Stories of celebrities getting harassed, threatened or abused on Twitter is common and rarely is a Twitter account ever blocked or removed despite complaints and reports. Hence, Twitter’s recent move to block nearly 300,000 accounts suspected of links to terrorism is a rare surprise.
Twitter has a user base of 328million with nearly 68million active users in the US alone. Along with Facebook and YouTube, it is one of the most popular social networks and one that enjoys more freedom than Facebook or the others. All it takes for a user is to tweet 140 characters to spread their ideology and get a massive response in return. In fact, Twitter’s power was visible during the Egypt uprising five years ago when it became the tool for gathering rebels. In the words of one protester, ‘We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world.’
Until a few years ago, social networks would refuse to acknowledge that their platforms were hotbeds for terrorism and extremism. Now though, things are changing. At the start of 2017, these social giants finally accepted that they had to do a lot more in curbing malicious content. Facebook initiated the process by restricting hate-pages to create ads or promote their content. YouTube and Twitter are now creating automation tools to detect troublesome content. In the first half of 2017, Twitter declared that 95% of the 300,000 terrorist accounts were detected by its automated-spam filter tool and were automatically removed. Towards the second half of the year, government data requests had another 3,900 accounts to be removed.
According to Twitter, their anti-spam tools were getting faster and smarter in detecting tweets or accounts that violate the company’s policies. This comes as a double-edged sword as social media networks is walking on the thin ice trying to balance freedom of speech with harmful or threatening speech. Their reluctance in a blanket action has irked government officials worldwide who feel the networks are not doing enough to control terrorism and extremism. Within just six months, 2,111 requests for data information was made by American authorities, Japan made 1,384 requests and the U.K issued 606 requests. The demand for policing, controlling and removing content has been on the rise with the frequency of terrorist and racial attacks in the US and elsewhere. Turkey has also been consistent in its demand for data policing because of the recent Turkish coup and uprising.
The next few years will be a challenging time for social networks as terrorists become more aggressive and innovative in their communication styles. Recruiting extremists, hate, and fear mongers over social media is an easy deal. Despite their promises, social networks are still not able to bring down the hate pages and extremist content that social media is filled with. The reason is quite simple – as long as there is a protection for freedom of speech, it would be extremely difficult to draw the line. Governments will continue to police accounts and request for a block or a removal while Twitter and Facebook will continue to remove spam accounts; both approaches slow and ineffective in controlling violent content.