Twitter suspends more than 125K accounts for promoting terrorism

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Twitter has suspended more than 125,000 accounts for promoting or threatening terrorism since the middle of last year, the company said in a blog post Friday.  

The announcement comes at a time when Twitter and other social media companies are under intense pressure from Washington to blunt the online influence of terror organizations like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  

{mosads}Twitter says it used “proprietary spam-fighting tools” to find accounts that should be deleted. The company also beefed up the size of its team that reviews accounts for suspension, though it would not detail the size of the staff or the pace of the increase. 

“As many experts and other companies have noted, there is no ‘magic algorithm’ for identifying terrorist content on the internet, so global online platforms are forced to make challenging judgement calls based on very limited information and guidance,” Twitter said in its blog.

Twitter said it is “horrified” by violent extremism, such as the shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., last year and the attacks in Paris. The company said its rules “make clear” that posts promoting terrorism are forbidden.  

In April of last year, Twitter explicitly banned statements “threatening or promoting” terrorism. A month before that, the Brookings Institution came out with a report that found Twitter had deleted at least 1,000 ISIS supporting accounts, and possibly many more, within a four month period. Since then, it appears the suspensions have accelerated.

Friday’s announcement follows a high-profile meeting last month between Silicon Valley executives and Obama administration officials that was held to explore ways to prevent the spread of terrorism online.

Social media companies have been more aggressive in publicizing their anti-terror efforts since that meeting. A recent Yahoo News story detailed some of the steps Facebook has taken. 

The effort by tech companies to highlight their anti-terrorism efforts could be aimed at Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers are pushing for legislation to combat terrorist groups online.

Leaders on the Senate Intelligence Committee have introduced legislation that would require Internet companies to report to the government when they obtain actual knowledge of terrorist activity on their platforms, modeling it off child pornography laws.  

However, technology companies have opposed that bill, saying the two issues are fundamentally different.

While child pornography is identifiable and illegal on its face, “terrorist activity” is vague and harder to define, tech companies say, leaving the companies on the hook to make the decision.  

Shortly after Twitter’s post went live, Brett McGurk, who lead’s the State Department’s effort to build support against ISIS, applauded Twitter’s “Welcome moves.” And Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called Twitter’s removals “an important part of the fight against radical islam.”

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