Why has pro-ISIS Twitter traffic dropped 45 percent in two years?

Twitter's policy of suspending accounts tied to extremism and the US government's promotion of anti-ISIS propaganda are credited with helping pro-ISIS Twitter traffic dropping 45 percent in 2 years. 

Dado Ruvic/Reuters
Pro-ISIS Twitter traffic is down 45 percent in two years, the Obama Administration announced. The Islamic State hashtag (#ISIS) is shown typed into the search bar on Twitter in this February 2016 photo.

Pro-ISIS Twitter traffic has dropped 45 percent in 2 years, the Obama Administration announced, crediting improving anti-ISIS propaganda strategies. Twitter's aggressive suspension policy toward pro-ISIS accounts is also believed to have had a large impact. 

The US government and allies have striven to fight ISIS aggressively on Twitter by using anti-ISIS images highlighting the group's treatment of women and children under the its control, as the Associated Press reported.

One image shows a Muslim woman with a bruised eye and a caption that reads "Women under ISIS. Enslaved. Battered. Beaten. Humiliated. Flogged," and another shows a teddy bear and text saying ISIS "slaughters childhood" and "lashes purity". 

For every piece of pro-ISIS content online, there are six pieces of anti-ISIS content, the AP reported. When pro-ISIS accounts on Twitter are discovered, they have an average of 300 followers, down from 1,500 in 2014. 

The administration's strategy has evolved since the fight against ISIS on Twitter started soon after the group rose to prominence in 2013. At the start, most of the anti-ISIS propaganda was put out by the US government in English. Now, the information is produced in Arabic by Muslim governments and local religious leaders and advocacy groups, increasing its effectiveness. 

Increasing the amount of anti-ISIS content on Twitter makes it more difficult for ISIS to recruit, Michael Lumpkin, who leads the Global Engagement Center, the organization that oversees the US's anti-extremist propaganda, told the AP. 

"We're denying ISIL the ability to operate uncontested online, and we're seeing their social media presence decline," he said. 

Twitter is often the first point of contact for those interested in joining ISIS and members of the group overseas, according to the FBI. 

"They have a highly sophisticated media effort that utilizes all the tools and techniques of modern-day, social media Internet-based advertising," FBI Director James Comey said, according to the Huffington Post. "They’re actually quite good at what they do."

Social media networks have also improved their strategies to fight extremism on their websites. Twitter had suspended more than 125,000 accounts for "threatening or promoting terrorist acts" since mid-2015 as of February, according to a blog post on Twitter's website. 

Comey said that Twitter had been "very good and thoughtful and hardworking at trying to shut down accounts," and that there was a high level of cooperation between Twitter and the US government. 

Twitter increased the amount of employees that review reports of accounts that violate the site's rules, which has lowered the response time. They have also began to investigate other accounts similar to those reported by using antispam technology. 

Account suspensions have been successful in limiting ISIS' online reach, according to researchers J.M. Berger and Heather Perez at George Washington University. Berger and Perez found that pro-ISIS English-language accounts are unable to spread their message past their own supporters. 

Although suspended accounts often come back in a different form, suspensions limit their reach, the researchers found. 

"We found suspensions typically had a very significant detrimental effect on these repeat offenders, shrinking both the size of their networks and the pace of their activity," they wrote. "Returning accounts rarely reached their previous heights, even when the pressure of suspension was removed."

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