In ongoing war with Islamic State, Twitter suspends 2,000 accounts

The Islamic State is well known for its savvy use of social media to spread threats and propaganda. But social media companies in the United States, including Twitter, are fighting back.

This screen grab made Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, shows the front page of the US Central Command Twitter account after is was hacked. The Twitter site was taken over Monday by hackers claiming to be working on behalf of Islamic State militants. American and coalition fighters are launching airstrikes against IS in Iraq and Syria. The site was filled with threats that said, "American soldiers, we are coming, watch your back." Other postings appeared to list names and phone numbers of military personnel as well as PowerPoint slides and maps.

Twitter has launched its own war against the Islamic State (IS).

A brutal organization that has succeeded in conquering large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, IS is also well known for its savvy use of social media to spread threats and propaganda. But social media companies in the United States are fighting back.

Over the past several days, Twitter has suspended about 2,000 IS-affiliated accounts.

"Twitter has been doing a whole lot over the past week. They've slammed them pretty hard, including the official media distribution guys," J.M. Berger, a terrorism analyst who monitors IS online messaging, told ABC News.

As part of the private-sector effort to combat IS, Google Ideas commissioned a study by Mr. Berger and others in which they created a system to track pro-IS messages on social media. The group recently reported its findings to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and a full report will be published by the Brookings Institution's Project on US Relations With the Islamic World early this month.

According to Berger, 13 of the 16 major IS distribution accounts were removed from Twitter this week. Since IS began using social media to target Western audiences last summer, tens of thousands of IS-affiliated accounts have been suspended, analysts estimate.

YouTube and Facebook have also expanded preexisting processes to identify and remove terrorist content. But while Facebook has succeeded in making it nearly impossible for IS supporters to maintain fan pages or online groups, YouTube has struggled to keep up with the volume of IS-related videos. About 300 hours of video material is uploaded to YouTube every minute, Verity Harding, a Google public policy manager, told the Associated Press last month. (Google owns YouTube.)

Often the job of removing offending IS videos is like a game of whack-a-mole, with new content popping up faster than it can be removed.

Twitter has been taking a proactive approach and suspending IS-affiliated accounts before they post offending material.  

“It has never happened before that Twitter suspends randomly and without graphic photos or attack on individual or threat,” reporter Elijah Magnier told the Daily Dot, which covers Internet issues. “Some accounts were suspended 3-7 times within one single day.”

The efforts are taking place without the encouragement of the US government, which would sometimes prefer that IS-affiliated accounts remain active for intelligence-gathering purposes, according to ABC News, which cited an anonymous source.

Meanwhile, private companies aren’t the only ones stepping up their efforts to squash IS’s cyberpresence. The hacktivist collective Anonymous has recently launched an initiative to track and hack IS-affiliated social media accounts. While Twitter and Facebook have not confirmed whether the hackers alerted them to some of the offending content on their sites, the majority of the material identified by Anonymous has been removed from both sites, CNN reported.

The increased effort to combat IS’s online presence has not gone unnoticed by the group. On Monday, IS representatives called for the death of Twitter employees.  

“Your virtual war on us will cause a real war on you,” read a post on the media-sharing site

The post, which was written in Arabic and addressed to Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, featured an image of Mr. Dorsey with crosshairs over his face.

Twitter’s security team is investigating the veracity of the threat.

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