Critics Say Social Media Firms Could Do More To Thwart Terrorists


After 14 people were killed in last week’s massacre in San Bernardino, Ca., a familiar voice celebrated the attacks on Twitter: “California, we have already arrived with our soldiers. Decide how to be your end, with knife or bomb.” The New York Times says the comment was posted from the 335th Twitter account of a pro-Islamic State group that calls itself Asawitiri Media. Twitter has repeatedly tried to cut off the authors of the account. As soon as Twitter suspends one account, a new one is created. Politicians and some technologists say Silicon Valley's efforts to crack down on the use by terrorists of social media have been toothless. On Sunday, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, called on tech companies to become more aggressive. “Resolve means depriving jihadists of virtual territory, just as we work to deprive them of actual territory,” she said. “They are using websites, social media, chat rooms and other platforms to celebrate beheadings, recruit future terrorists and call for attacks. We should work with host companies to shut them down.”

As the 335 versions of the pro-Islamic State Twitter account show, technology companies are dealing with a tenacious adversary. When it comes to terrorists using encryption technologies to hide their communications — a frequent complaint of law enforcement — technology companies are quick to point out that of the top five encryption apps recommended by the Islamic State, none are American-made. While the tech industry cannot block all terror content on the web, people who have battled other online threats say it could be doing more. They point to technology that has successfully eradicated large swaths of child pornography on the web, or even older tools for spotting computer viruses. “When Twitter says, 'We can't do this,' I don't believe that,” said Hany Farid, chairman of the computer science department at Dartmouth College, who co-developed the child pornography tracking system with Microsoft.

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