- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Compared to other social media outlets, Twitter has fallen far behind in the fight against Islamic extremism online, several activists told a Congressional committee on Tuesday.

There are at least 43,000 active pro-Islamic State Twitter accounts, sending approximately 200,000 tweets a day, according to data from the Counter Extremism Project, a nonprofit.

But while Twitter has taken it upon themselves to streamline the process for reporting such activities as online bullying and harassment of women, it has been largely dismissive when it comes to accounts promoting terrorism, said Ambassador Mark Wallace, CEO of the Counter Extremism Project.

Speaking before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Mr. Wallace explained that Twitter is a “gateway drug” for extremist propaganda because it is often the first social media platform where vulnerable individuals are first exposed to Islamic State propaganda.

Prominent Islamic State supporters have used Twitter to issue threats and call for violent attacks on the United States.

Last month, Sally Anne Jones, a British Islamic State operative — known on Twitter as Umm Hussain al-Britani — published a “kill list” of 100 U.S. servicemen and issue threats on Twitter against U.S. Navy SEAL Robert O’Neill, who claimed to have killed Osama Bin Laden, and former Army Sgt. Dillard Jones, who claimed to be the U.S.’ deadliest soldier.

And jihadist supporters will often use Twitter to connect followers to other accounts on chat applications like Kik or WhatsApp to coordinate travel to Syria and funding to terrorist groups, Mr. Wallace said.

Thus the Islamic State, a small group within the context of the number of Muslims worldwide, has had a tremendous impact when “coupled with that toxic accelerant which is social media,” said Ambassador Alberto M. Fernandez, vice president of The Middle East Media Research Institute.  

Yet Twitter is often slow to take down such extremist accounts. Even when reported, these accounts are often put in to a rolling queue for further review. 

“Twitter was non-responsive at best early on. It took some modest actions over the course of the year to appear to be engaging more aggressively in the area. I think they could do much more,” Mr. Wallace told The Washington Times.

But many, including Twitter, have argued that an aggressive campaign against online extremism would violate the constitutional right to free speech.

Responding to an inquiry on the issue, a Twitter official told Mother Jones magazine: “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

In an email to The Times, a Twitter representative said “We review all reported content against our rules, which prohibit unlawful use, violent threats, and the promotion of terrorism.” 

According to Twitter’s abusive behavior policy, “Users may not make threats of violence or promote violence, including threatening or promoting terrorism.” 

Rep. Ted Lieu, California Democrat, argued that it is not Congress’ job to regulate speech on social media, saying an initial campaign to take down accounts promoting jihad could quickly morph in to an assault on users’ right to express their support for the Ku Klux Klan or the Assad regime online.

But Mr. Wallace, a constitutional lawyer, argued that Americans have been regulating speech for decades.

“There’s all sort of speech that is regulated in the united states because we as a society have deemed some speech to be unacceptable. Child pornography, screaming fire in a crowded theater, stalking. … We regulate speech all the time,” Mr. Wallace told The Times. “I think we have to have that debate in the context of online terror.”

Mr. Wallace suggested online extremism could be regulated by following guidelines that allow users to express their personal opinions while bringing a swift halt to account that directly aid and promote violent attacks.

“Some of the best ways to counter this may be through quiet and frank conversation by our diplomats behind the scenes with local interlocutors, but this is still something than needs to be prioritized and done,” Mr. Fernandez said.

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