As terrorists continue to turn to social media for amplifying ideologies and scouting new recruits, Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate are pushing a pair of legislative proposals to ensure companies like Facebook and Twitter are properly informing the federal government about suspected extremist activity as it unfolds on their networks.
Proposals by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee attempt to establish new rules intended to curb the use of social media among international terrorists, such as the Islamic State group, amid ongoing reports that extremists are amplifying their agenda through the Internet, notwithstanding Silicon Valley’s own efforts.
The Senate’s offering, proposed on Tuesday by Vice Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and Chairman Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican, would require tech companies to report online terrorist activity to law enforcement in the same manner it would with child pornography.
“This bill doesn’t require companies to take any additional actions to discover terrorist activity, it merely requires them to report such activity to law enforcement when they come across it,” Ms. Feinstein said in a statement.
The Senate bill shares similarities with a House proposal introduced in September by Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican, and brought up for discussion before the Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday morning.
With respect to Mr. Poe’s offering, passage would also establish a policy that enhances the exchange of information between the government and social media companies as it relates to terrorism, while at the same time directing the White House to put together a report that examines the role of social media in radicalization and how the United States intends to counter it.
“When it comes to the external message, our message is being trumped by ISIS,” Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat, said during Wednesday morning’s hearing in reference to the Islamic State group. “We are losing a popularity contest to people who behead women.”
While lawmakers have largely touted Silicon Valley’s actions so far with respect to wiping ISIS-related accounts from the Internet, the terror group has reportedly used tens of thousands of Twitter profiles under its control to spread propaganda and seek funding.
“Instead of having to go to Syria to train, all they have to do is log-in on to get online training,” Mr. Poe said during Wednesday’s hearing, adding that “nearly all” of the 71 people residing in the United States who have been charged with crimes related to ISIS in recent months “spent hours online voicing their support for ISIS and later were arrested.”
“The stakes have never been higher and having cooperation with these outlets will help save lives here and abroad,” said Mr. Burr, the co-author of the Senate bill.
Despite the backing of Republicans and Democrats alike, however, not all lawmakers are eager to codify new social media rules. Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, issued a statement this week condemning Ms. Feinstein’s bill by saying that he believes it would “lead to less reporting of terrorist activity, not more.”
Down the street from Congress, a senior Obama administration official told Reuters this week that the White House plans to soon meet with tech sector representatives to develop a “clearer understanding of when we believe social media is being used actively and operationally to promote terrorism.”
The front-runners for the Democratic and Republican nomination for president, meanwhile, have weighed in on the role of social media in spreading hate as well this week. Hillary Clinton said during an address on Sunday that “We need to put the great disrupters at work at disrupting ISIS,” and Donald Trump said during a speech the following evening that the U.S. should consider “closing up” the Internet to deal with radical extremism.