On Sunday, a photo of Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s face with crosshairs placed on it was posted on the site by Islamic State supporters, who meant it as a threat against the company for closing their accounts. While terrorists groups such as ISIS have continued to rely heavily upon social media as a means to attract followers and to promote their agenda, Twitter has often shut down accounts they find to be serving this purpose.
Threats from ISIS aimed at Twitter employees are not new. In October, ISIS relayed the message that employees and management working for the media giant should be assassinated. However, the posts on Sunday were more focused on individuals like Dorsey. Dorsey did not respond to the threats, but the person who took the image used in the post has questioned whether the terrorist group is familiar with the copyright laws upon which they have infringed by using his image.
The threats towards Twitter from ISIS are in response to their accounts being shut down. There is good reason for these account cancellations, though. While a spokesperson from Twitter has explained that the company does not “proactively monitor content,” it does have a few regulations. Most users know the very basic concept of Twitter; how it only allows 140 characters per message along with photos or short videos, however, under the Twitter rules, users are not allowed to invoke violence or make threats against others. What these ISIS users are doing is in direct violation of these rules.
The terrorist-related groups that have been posting in violation of Twitter rules have been receiving the attention of law enforcement agencies working in cooperation with Twitter. Last year, a UK counter-terrorist unit began working with the site to weed out these malicious users. In September, ISIS became frustrated with their accounts and threatened Twitter employees. In October, CEO Dick Costolo told the press he had received threats from the terrorist group.
Jim Prosser, a spokesperson for Twitter, has communicated to the media that their security team is currently determining the validity of these threats, but as of yet, none of the threats on employees’ lives have been carried out. Many are hoping these threats are simply the group venting frustration that one of their most popular modes of recruitment and exposure is being restricted.
ISIS has indicated that if the media group is suspending and canceling their accounts, they will simply continue to open new ones and their message will still be broadcast. However, as law enforcement agencies and media groups such as Twitter and YouTube work together, it may be possible to limit their exposure. This is a difficult task though, because oftentimes they are using anonymous accounts that are difficult to trace.
Twitter has been receiving threats from Islamic State supporters for some time now. The threats have begun to focus on individuals within the social media company, which can be unsettling for employees, co-founder Dorsey and CEO Costolo. The use of social media has gained in popularity with ISIS as a way to reach new demographics for recruitment, but their appeal to violence is not an accepted use of these sites.
By Joel Wickwire