Why is ISIS threatening Twitter employees with 'lions'?

The extremist militant group, also known as ISIS, has called for the assassination of Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. What does the group stand to gain from such threats? 

AP Photo/File
In this Sunday, March 30, 2014, file photo, Islamic State group militants hold up their flag as they patrol in a commandeered Iraqi military vehicle in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, Iraq. The group has effectively used the Internet to spread its messages of martyrdom and glory to potential recruits in the West, leading social media sites to launch a systemic effort at shutting down ISIS-aligned accounts. ISIS and its supporters have recently threatened Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey with assassination.

The Islamic State is not happy with Twitter.

On Sunday, supporters of the extremist militant group called for the death of company employees in response to Twitter’s blocking of social media accounts associated with the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, Buzzfeed reported.

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

“We told you from the beginning it’s not your war, but you didn’t get it and kept closing our accounts on Twitter, but we always come back,” the post continued. “But when our lions come and take your breath, you will never come back to life.”

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

Social media has been a vital tool for ISIS propaganda and recruitment since at least June, when the militants’ campaign of terror began in Iraq and Syria.

Extremists have been using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr to spread their messages of martyrdom and loyalty to young people in Western countries, transforming jihadism into a full-blown media phenomenon, The Christian Science Monitor reported last July.

As The New York Times put it:

ISIS is online jihad 3.0. Dozens of Twitter accounts spread its message, and it has posted some major speeches in seven languages. Its videos borrow from Madison Avenue and Hollywood, from combat video games and cable television dramas, and its sensational dispatches are echoed and amplified on social media.

“They are very adept at targeting a young audience,” John G. Horgan, a terrorism expert and a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, told the Times. “There’s an urgency: ‘Be part of something that’s bigger than yourself and be part of it now.’”

At the same time, ISIS – like Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups before it – has used the Internet and social media to spread fear: The group’s infamous beheading videos in particular catapulted ISIS to notoriety on a global level.

Social media sites have been fighting back. Since last year, Twitter has been working with a UK counter-terrorism unit that specializes in social media counterattacks to shut down ISIS-related Twitter accounts, The Guardian reported.

The same unit is working with other social networking sites, such as YouTube, to take down videos of murder, torture, violence, and anything else that serves to glorify ISIS and its message of jihad, according to The Guardian.

The backlash was immediate. In September, an ISIS-related Twitter account used the hashtag #The_Concept_of_Lone_Wolf_Attacks to call for the assassination of Twitter employees, Vocativ reported.

A month later, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo told reporters that he and other employees had personally received threats from ISIS-related groups as a response to Twitter’s efforts to block extremist accounts from the social media site.

"It's against our terms of service," Mr. Costolo said at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in October. "It's against the law in many of the countries in which we operate for them to use it to promote their organization. When they do, we find those accounts and we shut them down, and we shut them down quite actively."

“After regularly suspending their accounts… some folks affiliated with the organization used Twitter to declare that the employees of Twitter and the management of Twitter should be assassinated,” Costolo added.

“That’s a jarring thing for anyone to have to deal with,” he said.

None of the threats on Twitter employees have materialized so far, though the company doesn’t appear to be taking too many chances.

“Our security team is investigating the veracity of these threats with relevant law enforcement officials,” Twitter spokesman Jim Prosser told Buzzfeed News.

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