FBI calls on Twitter to do more to combat terrorism

FBN's Liz MacDonald on the FBI's efforts to get social media companies such as Twitter to do more to monitor and stop terrorist content.

Exclusive: FBI Says Twitter Needs to Do More to Combat Terrorism

By Stocks FOXBusiness

Twitter (TWTR) isn’t doing enough to stop ISIS and other terrorists, FBI officials in Washington, D.C. tell FOX Business. Twitter “needs to do more in setting up teams to troll, monitor and review all terrorist-related tweets and content. It needs to build up its budget for these teams and let these teams grow even bigger,” an FBI official tells FBN.

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But the extra cost of being Internet cops would burden an already pressured bottom line. Twitter tells FBN it does unplug terrorist accounts and notify authorities of immediate threats. While Twitter has said earlier this year that it has tripled the size of its “tweet threat” team, it won’t reveal exactly how many workers it has dedicated full-time to the effort. “Authorities can request the info” on terrorist activity a Twitter spokesman tells FBN, but adds, “Like all of our technology industry peers, we do not proactively monitor content."

Yesterday, Democrat presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton said ISIS should be banned from Twitter and the Internet. "We have got to shut down their internet presence, which is posing the principal threat to us," the former U.S. secretary of state said.

Senator Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.), a ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, yesterday blocked a 2016 funding bill for the FBI, CIA, and the National Security Agency due to a new provision that would have forced Twitter and social media companies to report terrorism just as they must do with child pornography.

But because the bill doesn’t stipulate what the penalties are if they fail to do so, and due to its vague, expansive language over what constitutes “terrorist activity,” Sen. Wyden now says in a statement: “Internet companies should not be subject to broad requirements to police the speech of their users.”

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Sen. Wyden voted for the bill in June that he is now blocking. It passed unanimously through the Senate Intelligence  Committee with the senator's vote.

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Social media companies have lobbied hard against the new provision, which now may either be changed or removed entirely. In his statement, the senator noted that stopping terrorists like ISIS ought to be top priorities for law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and he also said: "But I haven’t yet heard any law enforcement or intelligence agencies suggest that this provision will actually help catch terrorists.”

ISIS and their sympathizers deployed an estimated 46,000 Twitter accounts, mostly from Syria and Iraq, from October to November of last year, says a March 2015 study by Brookings Institution, though not all were active at the same time. About 20% of those accounts tweeted in English, while a further 73% tweeted in Arabic. “Thousands of accounts have been suspended by Twitter since October 2014,” Brookings says.

But people close to the matter say a blanket ban is not possible due to the volume of tweets and accounts. Law enforcement officials have also said social media provides leads to catch terrorist networks.

Like the telecommunications companies, social media companies have been under pressure to do more to work with law enforcement to stop terrorism. Twitter’s brand is built on being the “free speech wing of the free speech party,” on not chilling or silencing speech, a reputation that could be damaged if it’s thought to be conducting widespread surveillance on accounts for the government. The issue is also complicated by the fact that news stories about ISIS and terrorist activity are often posted online, requiring Twitter and social media companies to make judgment calls. While social media companies don’t want to be Internet cops, they don’t want terrorists using their sites, either.

FBI Director James Comey testified before Senate Intelligence on July 8 that social media concerns do voluntarily report to law enforcement when they catch terrorist activity. "I do find in practice they are pretty good about telling us what they see," the director had said. But there is a sentiment inside the FBI that Twitter could do more.

Two weeks later, at the Aspen Institute, FBI director Comey, said of ISIS: “They have invested, about the last year, in pushing a message of poison primarily through Twitter. Twitter is a valuable enterprise because it works, to sell shoes or to sell ideas, it works to sell this message to troubled souls.”

The director added: “ISIL’s M.O. is they broadcast on Twitter, get people to follow them, then move them to Twitter Direct Messaging while they evaluate whether they’re a potential liaison either to travel or to kill where they are. Then they’ll move them to an encrypted mobile-messaging app, so they go dark to us.”

The FBI instead must get court authority to access Twitter contacts and it doesn’t have the ability to break strong encryption, putting monitoring by social media in focus.

 

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