Legislation to combat ISIS propaganda faces pushback from Dems

Legislation to combat ISIS propaganda faces pushback from Dems
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The House on Tuesday will debate a measure intended to counter the online recruitment efforts of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The bill, from Rep. Chuck FleischmannCharles (Chuck) Joseph FleischmannTrump roasts Republicans at private fundraising event Trump faces new hit on deficit Lawmakers concede they might have to pass a dreaded 'CR' MORE (R-Tenn.), would order the Department of Homeland Security to use the testimonials of “former or estranged violent extremists or their associates” to battle terrorist recruitment.

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“We do nothing in the homeland to stop this radicalization from within,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Tuesday on Fox’s "America’s Newsroom." “This is the most effective way to the counter the narrative that ISIS is sending every day over the Internet.”

The bill is facing pushback from Democrats for singling out foreign terrorist groups.

“Domestic terror groups, just like foreign terrorist organizations, recruit and spread propaganda through social media and online platforms,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said in a statement that called the bill "politically charged." 

“This bill ignores the fact that domestic terror groups, just like foreign terrorist organizations, kill Americans and are a threat to the homeland,” the committee's ranking member said. “I urge my colleagues to reject this bill and support the Administration’s current efforts to prevent violent extremism in all its forms.”

Pressure has been building to combat ISIS online in the wake of the attacks on Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. Shortly following the December shootings in California, which killed 14, the FBI said the suspected shooters had been radicalized for “quite some time.”

One of the shooters, Tashfeen Malik, posted allegiance to ISIS on Facebook using a pseudonym, and while the terrorist group did not claim responsibility for the shooting, it lauded the couple’s actions.

Much of the pressure to crack down on ISIS online has fallen on social media companies.

ISIS's first major foray into social media came last summer, when it posted a YouTube video of a member beheading the journalist James Foley. Since then, ISIS’s online activity has grown significantly, with Twitter becoming a central part of its recruitment activity.

A March study from the Brookings Institution estimated that from September through December 2014, ISIS supporters used at least 46,000 Twitter accounts, although not all of them were active at the same time.

Facebook has been aggressive, and largely successful, in identifying and shutting down terrorist-affiliated accounts on its platform, experts say.

Twitter is said to have a spottier record in removing terrorist content. The company, which deactivated around 10,000 accounts associated with ISIS for “tweeting violent threats” last year, has largely played a game of whack-a-mole with extremist accounts: It shuts one down only to have the same user crop up again under a new handle.

McCaul on Tuesday identified the “volume of chatter” from ISIS-affiliated accounts as a key challenge facing anti-terrorism efforts.

“If we can shut down their communications, they cannot radicalize people to conduct terror attacks like what we saw in San Bernardino,” McCaul said, citing Department of Defense efforts to “shut down” ISIS Internet postings.

But while efforts to boot terrorists off of social media platforms are actively underway, he argued a government push to counter ISIS propaganda is “not happening right now.”

“I want to make sure Americans are not getting radicalized and the fact is, they are,” McCaul said.