It’s only been a few months since Anonymous set their sights on ISIS, hoping to curb their recruiting efforts on Twitter by reporting and suspending all the accounts they could find.
Since then, Twitter announced that they would redouble their efforts to ban accounts that were associated with the terrorist group, and it seems that the combined effort has actually began to do some good.
According to a report put out by the George Washington University Program on Extremism, “the number of readily discoverable English-speaking ISIS supporters on Twitter is relatively small, usually fewer than 1,000 accounts,” and that even an extended search “using advanced social network analysis produced a network of fewer than 3,000 accounts at any given time.”
"Diminishing returns is the way to think about it," J.M. Berger, a co-author of the report, told Business Insider.
"They're still there ... but a lot of their key functions have been severely limited. And they're spending a lot more time just trying to stay online rather than do the work.”
It may come as a surprise to some that almost half of ISIS’ fighting force consists of foreigners, and about 4,000 of them are Westerners. Some experts attribute ISIS' success to their masterful use of social media as a recruitment tool.
"It's still an effective recruiting platform, but the burden of making first contact is increasingly shifting to the recruit instead of the recruiter," Berger said. "... These changes I think have severely limited their ability to broadcast."
More importantly, the “shout-out” method helps pro-ISIS accounts stay in the game, despite being banned. Once one account is taken out, another one will pop up and get a “shout-out” from another account so that they can get some of their followers back.
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In other words, it’s nearly impossible to completely wipe out pro-ISIS accounts, but it’s entirely possible to slow them down and make it harder and harder for them to maintain a powerful number of followers on Twitter.
"This [report] is fundamentally aimed at the idea that it's pointless to ... try and suppress these guys on social media because they'll just come back at the same level that they did," Berger said. "People have been mounting that argument for a couple of years now, and there's now a substantial amount of evidence that that's not true."
Berger also speaks out against the argument that some of their companies claim to abide by: freedom of speech.
"There's not free speech, there's corporate-managed speech," Berger said. "... These companies are managing speech. They're deciding what speech is acceptable and what isn't."
This argument is similar to that of a school—while a school is technically supposed to allow students the right to freedom of speech, there are things that they are allowed to limit in order to create a distraction-free, safe environment for students.
But public schools are government-owned whereas companies like Twitter are not—it’s a service that is provided and therefore can be monitored and maintained however the company sees fit (within reason, of course).
Therefore, it’s absolutely within Twitter’s power and right to stand up against ISIS and curb their recruitment—and finally, they have a report to back up their efforts, pointing to the success of banning terrorist-affiliated accounts.
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