Lawmakers push Twitter to deactivate terrorist accounts

Lawmakers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are urging Twitter to ramp up efforts to deactivate accounts run by terrorist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

In a letter to Twitter CEO Dick Costolo released publicly on Thursday, Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), ranking member Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.), and Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Ted PoeTed PoeA clear signal on Georgia’s future Overnight Tech: Dem presses Facebook on gun sales | Praise for new librarian of Congress | Fourth Amendment Caucus to push privacy concerns Overnight Cybersecurity: Guccifer 2.0 releases more DNC docs; China hacked banking regulator MORE (R-Texas) said more needs to be done.

Twitter recently shut off about 2,000 accounts, but as many as tens of thousands more remain active.

The lawmakers suggested that Twitter create an option for users to report "terrorist content," instead of just objectionable content broadly.

"We applaud your removal of some terrorist content, which has provoked serious threats against Twitter and its employees. However, we urge Twitter to treat all terrorist activity in the same way it treats other objectionable content. Users should have the option to report terrorist content in a streamlined manner, allowing Twitter to quickly block content and accounts that support terrorism, and Twitter should have a dedicated team to review such reports in a timely fashion," they wrote in the letter.

They further argued that terrorist-run accounts for posting graphic and violent updates, like tweeting videos of beheadings, shouldn't be shielded by free-speech rights.

"We commend Twitter's strong commitment to promoting free speech in the United States and around the world. However, when Twitter accounts are used to support terrorism, such content does not deserve protection," the lawmakers wrote.

In a letter responding to the House members, Twitter general counsel Vijaya Gadde said that the social media platform "shares your concern about threats of violence on the Internet by terrorist organizations."

"The bottom line is that it is impermissible to utilize the Twitter service for unlawful purposes or to use it to send threats of violence to other users," Gadde wrote.

Gadde noted that Twitter has "teams around the world providing 24-7 coverage" to act on complaints from users and law enforcement about threats of violence made in tweets.

"In response to these reports from users, trusted partners, and law enforcement entities, we have suspended thousands of Twitter accounts from terrorist organizations or related accounts based on violent content that violates our Terms of Service," Gadde wrote.

And in response to the lawmakers' argument that the terrorist-run accounts don't deserve First Amendment protections, Twitter said it aims to "strike a balance" between law enforcement needs and freedom of speech.

"The importance of free expression in a democratic society is an abiding value that we will continue to protect even as we address foreign terrorist organizations and violent content on our platform," Gadde said.

This story was updated at 1:18 p.m.