Should social media founders take ISIS threat seriously?

ISIS affiliates threatened Twitter and Facebook execs in a new video unearthed on the Web. 

Dado Ruvic/REUTERS
The Islamic State hashtag (#ISIS) is seen typed into the Twitter application on a smartphone in this picture illustration taken in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, earlier this month. Twitter Inc has shut down more than 125,000 terrorism-related accounts since the middle of 2015, most of them linked to the Islamic State group, the company said in a blog post on Friday.

The deep-web mining company Vocactiv published a report on Wednesday, saying that it had discovered an Islamic State (IS) propaganda video on the social media site Telegram.

At the end of the video, IS issued a direct threat against Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, according to the Vocactiv report. IS is targeting these two individuals, due to the efforts they have led against Islamic State social media accounts on their respective sites.

According to the video, which was produced by an IS affiliate named “the sons of the Caliphate army,” efforts by social media platforms are ineffective. The video claims that pro-IS hackers have compromised 10,000 Facebook profiles and 5,000 Twitter accounts.

“You announce daily that you suspend many of our accounts, and to you we say: Is that all you can do? You are not in our league,” according to a message in the video. “If you close one account, we will take 10 in return and soon your names will be erased after we delete your sites, Allah willing, and will know that we say is true.”

The video also showed photos of Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Zuckerberg with bullet holes. 

Yet, others say Islamic State enjoys dubious success on sites such as Twitter.

“Since the middle of 2015 alone,” Twitter said in a blog post on combating violent extremism, “we’ve suspended over 125,000 accounts for threatening or promoting terrorist acts, primarily related to ISIS.”

A Brookings Institution report published in 2015 identified the extent of Islamic State’s presence on social media. According to researchers, estimates of the number of IS affiliates on Twitter ranged from 46,000 to 70,000 in 2014. Twitter suspended more than 1,000 accounts between September and December 2014.

According to terrorism expert Jessica Stern, a research professor at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies, IS recruiters do much of their initial work on social media platforms. Once they have a serious recruit, they move on to encrypted forms of messaging.

Although Dr. Stern says it is clear that IS recruiters will come right back online once their profiles have been taken down, the threats “suggest that [the campaign against IS accounts] matters to them.”

A more recent report, published this month by George Washington University, finds that Twitter account suspensions have a negative impact on Islamic State recruitment online.

How seriously should Facebook and Twitter take IS threats?

According to Northeastern University professor of political science, Max Abrahms, “For the Islamic State to strike two people who are based so far away, that would require a greater level of sophistication than almost any other Islamic State attack.”

For IS, which operates predominantly in the Middle East and in states with weak governments, Dr. Abrahms says the distance would be a deterrent.

Dr. James Forest, the director of the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies at University of Massachusetts-Lowell, told The Christian Science Monitor by email that, “For us to over-react to such threats merely reinforces the perception that ISIS is feared, and that they can impact our views and behaviors – this is a perception that ISIS leaders desperately want to build and maintain about themselves.”

Another difficulty, says Stern, is that it is often hard to determine which online presences are “ISIS fanboys” and which are scholars such as herself, who are attempting to understand terrorism online.

On Wednesday, the Obama administration hosted a meeting between government counter-terrorism experts and technology and entertainment industry executives.

At the meeting, Justice Department security spokesman Marc Raimondi said that private sector companies, “have a crucial role to play in developing creative and effective ways to undermine terrorist recruiting and counter the call to violence.”

The New York Times reports that the White House has cracked down on terrorist usage of social media platforms since terrorist attacks last year in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. The administration hosted another meeting last January, that time in California, to discuss counter-terrorism measures with lead executives at tech companies.

Executives from Facebook and Twitter were among those who attended Wednesday’s meeting.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to