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ISIS And Twitter: Don't Shoot The Messenger

Governments are taking Twitter to task for inadvertently helping jihadists "recruit, incite and horrify." But they're forgetting what a valuable law enforcement resource the platform is too.

A suspended ISIS-linked Twitter account
A suspended ISIS-linked Twitter account
Nashwa Hussein Aly

CAIRO — While jihadists from the Islamic State (ISIS) also use services such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and even Askme.com, their social media platform of choice seems to be Twitter, perhaps because it allows them to easily direct traffic to some of the other platforms.

Following the White House Counter Violent Extremism Summit, reports abounded that the U.S. government is unhappy with Twitter and wants it to act more aggressively against terrorists by shutting down clear incitements to violence. Soon thereafter, the French interior minister also announced that his country wants Twitter, Facebook and Google to remove terrorist propaganda when authorities alert them to it.

But imagine this for a second: A U.S. government law enforcement agency asks Twitter to keep up an account of a jihadist they are trying to track; at the same time a French law enforcement agency asks Twitter to take down the same account — while a law enforcement agency in a third country requests the user information for that account. For legal reasons, Twitter staff are not able to share the fact that there are two other governments working on the same case with each of these agencies. Where does this leave Twitter in the eyes of each of these governments? Exactly where it is today — i.e. with the perception that its response is insufficient.

Apart from the fact that asking Twitter and its tech peers to do more in the fight against terrorists seems to ignore potential scenarios such as the one above, it also seems to overlook several other equally important issues in this fight.

First, the use of trending hashtags on Twitter for jihadist recruitment shows account suspension might not be useful in this fight. There will always be trending hashtags, and Twitter users — jihadist or not — will always jump on these hashtags to share content they want to go viral. After all, that is an important part of what Twitter is about as a product, isn't it?

Secondly, tweets by ISIS sympathizers provide a valuable window into the minds of people like Mehdi Masroor (otherwise known as @ShamiWitness), who might not be on the ground with ISIS fighters in Syria, Iraq or some other country, but for some reason finds their ideology appealing and their "cause" worthy of support and applause. Such users should be — and probably are — regarded by law enforcement agencies as a wealth of data to be studied, analyzed and used in the psychological profiling of potential terrorists, and in turn in the prevention of their recruitment. In short they're as important in dismantling ISIS as airstrikes and cutting financial resources.

Maj. General Imad Zuhairi of Samarra operational command injured,Mutassim subdistrict under #IS control pic.twitter.com/hSuZXNRc1Y

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Ukrainian protestors stand at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to mark Vyshyvanka Day, an International day to celebrate Ukrainian heritage and traditions

Lisa Berdet, Lila Paulou and Bertrand Hauger.

👋 Guten Tag!*

Welcome to Friday, where Russia intensifies shelling in eastern Ukraine, Biden lands in South Korea, and a Mercedes becomes the most expensive car ever sold. Meanwhile, for German daily die Welt, Cosima Lutz explores the sizzling question of the skyrocketing price of cooking oils.

[*German]

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