Yesterday, the Deep Web analysts at Vocativ claimed to have discovered a new ISIS video that threatens both Facebook and Twitter generally and their founders — Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey — personally.
Reportedly, the video — entitled “Flames of the Supporters” and made by ISIS supporters called “the sons of the Caliphate army,” although not yet made public by Vocativ or any other news site — comes in response to efforts by social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to clamp down on activity on their sites from terror groups, namely ISIS.
Earlier this month, Twitter announced that, since the middle of 2015, it had suspended over 125,000 accounts for suspected terrorist activity, mostly related to ISIS. Twitter also claimed to have “increased the size of the teams that review reports, reducing our response time significantly,” which they reported to have caused a trend of terrorist activity “shifting off of Twitter.”
Facebook hasn’t had the same kind of immediately quantifiable success (at least none they’ve reported), with efforts to block suspected terrorists seemingly mired in futility and darkly comic missteps, such as the time they banned a woman whose actual first name was Isis.
It’s not surprising, then, that a Change.org petition calling out Facebook for its weak efforts to fight ISIS generated substantial media coverage last December. The petition, started in response to the Paris attacks, didn’t reach its signatures goal, but Facebook’s Monika Bickert, Head of Global Product Policy, did respond with a reassuring message.
Bickert, a former federal prosecutor, doubled down on her reassuring message in an exclusive interview with Yahoo last month. According to Michael Isikoff, the writer of that piece, Bickert shared with him Facebook’s “most detailed accounting yet of its efforts to identify and remove terrorist material from its site.”
According to Bickert, these efforts include five counterterrorism offices around the world, staffed by specialists searching “around the clock” for terror-related accounts in order to promptly shut them down. However, as of yet, Facebook hasn’t released any statistics or made any announcements on just how effective their efforts have been.
Of course, regardless of how successful Facebook’s, or Twitter’s, efforts are, there will always be another platform. In the wake of Twitter’s crackdown, ISIS has largely moved to the Telegram messaging app, where the new video threatening Facebook and Twitter was reportedly discovered.
Nevertheless, with Facebook and Twitter’s utter dominance in their respective arenas, attacking ISIS on those platforms would surely be a devastating blow. As you’d guess, both have become invaluable recruitment and communication tools for terror networks in recent years. According to the Brookings Institution (perhaps Washington’s most respected global policy think tank), ISIS used approximately 46,000 Twitter accounts in just a four-month period in late 2014 and had been sending as many as 200,000 messages every day.
Brookings researcher J.M. Berger later told Wired that he believed Twitter’s crackdown had been successful and had a measurable impact on keeping the size of the terror network “roughly flat.” Again, Facebook’s anti-terror efforts appear to be just as, if not more, rigorous, but we’ll have to await the results.
And while many claim that this never-ending game of “whack-a-mole” between terror groups and social media can never be totally won, it seems clear (certainly to the Brookings Institution) that social media might just be our best hope in the fight against ISIS.