Should ISIS fighters be allowed on social media platforms?

Radical jihadi fighters have found a voice on social media platforms. Should they be allowed to keep it?

AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza
A woman checks her smartphone past a poster showing Marianne, the symbol of the French Republic, crying, and near Le Carillon restaurant, a site of last Friday's attacks, in Paris, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015 . Bar and restaurant owners are urging people to return to their local nightspots Tuesday, relaying the message online and on social media with the slogan "Tous au bistrot" — Everyone to the bistro. Poster reads: Stay united and defeat the enemy.

Having a conversation with an Islamic State fighter is, for self-evident reasons, hard to come by.

But in one Tumblr account, a former Dutch citizen who is now an ISIS fighter, documented his life as an Islamic fighter, including creating a question and answer forum for the public to ask about what it’s like to be a fighter for the Islamic State.

The Tumblr account has now been removed. 

But Robert Mackey of The New York Times documented some of the forum before it was deleted:

“Do you miss you mother?” “At times, yes.” — to technical — “I’ve heard that you’re not allowed to you Apple products, iPhones etc.” “This is true, I had to sell my wife’s iPhone.” — to theological — “Isn’t Tumblr haram by the way?” “If you’re on Tumblr (or any other social media outlet) for the wrong reasons and use it to please your desires and other unlawful things of course, but that goes for many other things.”

Members of the Islamic State have had chilling success recruiting young fighters from around the world to join them in Syria through social media, leading many social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram to ban any jihadist accounts.

While no official policy has been instated banning Islamic State content from the Internet, many social media accounts respond to complaints from users by blocking accounts. 

Should jihadi fighters be allowed to voice their perspectives online?

Facebook says no. 

There is no place for terrorists on Facebook,” Facebook spokesman Andrew Souvall told Wired Magazine. “We work aggressively to ensure that we do not have terrorists or terror groups using the site, and we also remove any content that praises or supports terrorism.” 

To some, that decision may sound like a violation of the US First Amendment, but it is also is a stringent security measure to prevent the Islamic State from propagating fear and recruiting new followers. A report from the Brookings Institute found that between September and December 2014, ISIS used roughly 46,000 Twitter accounts

As The Christian Science Monitor's Warren Richey reported:

The Islamic State group has assembled the most sophisticated recruitment effort ever seen on social media with the ability in an instant to reach from the darkest corners of the Middle East all the way to the bedroom of a 16-year-old girl checking her Facebook page in suburban America.

It is this aspect of the group, experts say, that makes it so potent, so resilient – and so dangerous to the West.

“I have been doing this for a long time, about 45 years. I’ve never seen a terrorist organization with the kind of public-relations savvy that I've seen with [IS] globally,” Francis Taylor, undersecretary for intelligence and analysis at the Department of Homeland Security, told a congressional hearing in June.

Twitter, however, has been less willing to ban all jihadi online activity. 

“Twitter continues to strongly support freedom of expression and diverse perspectives…but it also has clear rules governing what is permissible,” a Twitter spokesperson told The Washington Post. “The use of Twitter by violent extremist groups to threaten horrific acts of depravity and violence is of grave concern and against our policies, period.”

Following the graphic beheading of James Foley in August 2014, Twitter suspended over 10,000 ISIS accounts. Many accounts, however, are hard to catch. Jihadist users who have been suspended often reappear with a new account with a similar name but one additional letter or number.  Some Twitter users have created public rosters to document potential ISIS accounts.

As Mr. Mackey wrote in his column about the Dutch fighter for the Islamic State, "the archive of questions and answers offers a fascinating glimpse into the thinking of a Western-educated jihadist who has been transformed in the past two years from a skeptic of the Islamic State to an active member." 

But there's nothing left on the Tumblr account. 

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