Twitter is providing new detail Friday about its efforts to fight ISIS and violent extremism online. In a tweet from the company's "@Policy" team, the social media company said it has stepped up its fight against violent extremism online. Since the middle of 2015, the company said, it has suspended over 125,000 accounts for threatening or promoting terrorist attacks — primarily related to support for ISIS.
That's the first time Twitter has revealed the scale of terrorist related activity on its service. The Brookings Institution estimated in a report last year that there were at least 46,000 Twitter accounts used by ISIS supporters. The new figure revealed by Twitter would suggest that either ISIS has drastically increased its presence on the service since that year, or that Twitter has gotten more effective in identifying terrorist accounts.
The company also said that it has increased the size of teams that review reports of terrorist activity on Twitter, and it has reduced its response time to those reports. The company said it looks into accounts similar to the ones reported, and leverages proprietary spam fighting tools to find other potential terrorist accounts. "We have already seen results, including an increase in account suspensions and this type of activity shifting off of Twitter," the company said.
Twitter's announcement follows a controversy over the role of social media in the lives of the apparently ISIS inspired team that killed 14 people in an attack in San Bernardino, California, in December. Ultimately, the FBI said that the husband and wife terror team did not post pro-jihad sentiments publicly on social media before the attack, but sent them in private message communications.
Nonetheless, the fact that an attack had taken place refocused the public debate on what government and corporate leaders can do to spot potential threats in advance and stop online recruitment by ISIS.
Since the Edward Snowden disclosures of NSA spying, relations between the tech sector and the Federal intelligence community have been strained. But on Friday, Twitter cited praise for the company in July from FBI Director James Comey for its help in trying to shut down terrorism related accounts.
Twitter also discussed partnerships it has established with non-governmental organizations to counter violent extremism, including affiliations with People Against Violent Extremism and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.
In its March, 2015 report, the Brookings Institution report by J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan offered a number of insights into the typical ISIS supporter on social media:
— Almost one in five ISIS supporters selected English as their primary language when using Twitter.
— ISIS-supporting accounts had an average of about 1,000 followers each, considerably higher than an ordinary Twitter user.
— Much of ISIS's social media success can be attributed to a relatively small group of hyperactive users, numbering between 500 and 2,000 accounts.
— Account suspensions do have concrete effects in limiting the reach and scope of ISIS activities on social media. They do not, at the current level of implementation, eliminate those activities, and cannot be expected to do this.