Is Retweeting ISIS 'Material Support Of Terrorism'?

from the depends-on-your-point-of-view-apparently dept

Last week there was a bizarre and ill-informed post by music industry lawyer Chris Castle — who has a weird infatuation with the idea that Google must be pure evil — in which he tried to argue that because YouTube wasn’t able to take down propaganda videos showing ISIS atrocities fast enough, that Google was providing “material support” for terrorism. As Castle notes:

Google’s distribution of jihadi videos on Google?s monopoly video search platform certainly looks like material support of terrorists which is itself a violation of the federal law Google claims to hold so dear. (See 18 U.S. Code §2339A and §2339B aka the U.S. Patriot Act.)

Of course, there are all sorts of problems with the Patriot Act, including its definitions of “material support of terrorism,” but to stretch the law to argue that providing an open platform and simply not removing videos fast enough (the videos in question all got removed pretty rapidly anyway, but not fast enough for Castle) is somehow “material support for terrorism” is flat out crazy. It stems from the same sort of confused logic that Castle has used in the past, arguing that Google and others must magically “just know” what is infringing and what is not — suggesting a true lack of understanding about the scale of offerings like YouTube and the resources needed to sort through all the content.

We were inclined to simply dismiss Castle’s nuttiness to the category of “WTF” where it belongs… until at a conference earlier this week, a DOJ official, John Carlin, who holds the role of assistant attorney general for national security, appeared to suggest that anyone helping ISIS’s social media campaign could be guilty of “material support” for terrorism:

John Carlin, the assistant attorney general for national security, told a cybersecurity conference in Washington on Monday that officials could try to blunt ISIS?s violent PR operation by essentially trying propagandists as terrorists. He suggested the Justice Department could bring prosecutions under the law against providing material support to a terrorist organization. His remarks were believed to be the first time a U.S. official has ever said that people who assist ISIS with online media could face criminal prosecution.

Carlin was asked at the conference whether he would ?consider criminal charges? against people who are ?proliferating ISIS social media.?  

His answer: ?Yes. You need to look at the particular facts and evidence.? But Carlin noted that the United States could use the material support law to prosecute ?technical expertise? to a designated terrorist organization. And spreading the word for ISIS online could count as such expertise.

Carlin seems more focused on someone tweeting a link to ISIS propaganda or something along those lines, which would raise significant First Amendment issues, but his comment about “technical expertise” could certainly be turned around and put upon YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other providers of social media tools. That would create a huge mess, and open a Pandora’s box that would undermine one of the key premises of the internet that has made it so successful.

Is the DOJ really looking to undermine the entire internet, just because some terrorists have figured out that it’s a good way to get out their message?

Meanwhile, if you want to see just how far this sort of ridiculous thinking takes you — at the same time that people like Castle and Carlin are arguing about how YouTube may be supplying material support for terrorists, YouTube was deleting videos that were being used to document ISIS war crimes. YouTube has been rushing around trying to take down all kinds of ISIS and other terrorist content for a while now — ever since then Senator Joe Lieberman demanded that YouTube block terrorist videos. And, the end result is that important channels that catalog and archive evidence and documentation of war crimes are being taken down. And, this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened.

When you start accusing these platforms of having some sort of liability (potentially criminal liability in the form of “materially supporting terrorists” for merely providing an open platform that anyone can use, you are more or less guaranteeing that important content, such as that which documents war crimes and atrocities gets banned as well. Is that really what Castle and Carlin are looking to do?

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Companies: google, twitter, youtube

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Comments on “Is Retweeting ISIS 'Material Support Of Terrorism'?”

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Ninja (profile) says:

The mere fact that Youtube is deleting the content is a problem. Burying the content does not solve the problem and worse than that it can cause misinformation and instead of making people avoid the group they will support those poor minorities.

It’s even worse that they are willing to completely stomp freedom of speech and other natural rights because of some small group of lunatics. It is unfortunate that there are morons like Castle and Carlin and it’s ironic that they are using the same free speech mechanism they fight against to advocate the death of free speech.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Any Senator? I think some of the more obscure ones would be disregarded while Joe Lieberman the Red Democrat/later independent since the Democrats kicked him out of his primaries was a major dipshit that somehow had more powers than others for some reason…I’ll let you guess what. I doubt Wyden could tell Google to stop spying on its users.

Nastybutler77 (profile) says:

(potentially criminal liability in the form of “materially supporting terrorists” for merely providing an open platform that anyone can use, you are more or less guaranteeing that important content, such as that which documents war crimes and atrocities gets banned as well. Is that really what Castle and Carlin are looking to do?

You’re missing the end parenthesis thingy.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: There are better ways than censorship

It kinda got tossed out the window when the government’s dirty laundry got aired out.

‘Don’t support them, they’re evil, you can tell by the fact that they kidnap, torture, and murder people! Instead support us, because we… uh… we’re the good guys, honest…’

Hard to present a more appealing message when you’re barely better than the other guy.

Aaron Von Gauss (profile) says:

Undermine The Internet

While I generally agree with the post, I think the whole phrasing of “undermine the Internet” is just a bit of sensitization intended to provoke an anticipated result. The First Amendment does not give individuals or groups unfettered rights to do or say anything they want. The Internet is also not a magical place where the law does not apply, though jurisdiction can be problematic at times.

While some propaganda videos or messages may dance upon the line of free speech, other videos such as the beheading videos are indeed likely illegal to distribute (it is a crime to murder someone). Individuals do not necessarily have the same exemptions or protections afforded to the press, with “bloggers” still relatively poorly defined by the law.

My advice would be to not say or distribute anything on the Internet that you wouldn’t do so in real life, a fairly common sense approach. If you want to comment on an ISIS post on Twitter, don’t just retweet the post blindly include a personalized comment that says what you mean. Whether you like it or not, randomly passing links without context is not much different than taking a flyer from someone in regular life and just redistributing it to someone else walking by.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Undermine The Internet

They dont put value on life itself, and have a “if your not with us, your life is worth nothing” mentality………who have bombs and much much more, they cant wrap their head around the fact that some folks who dont want to join the them, for lack of a better word, the status quo, or those that do not want to join ANYONE and resent to be forced too through peer pressure, peer pressure that is heavilly influenced by big media, could possibly have a good or moral reason, some of, for lack of a better word, them, simply believe they are the good guys by either ignoring, justifying or intentionally/unintentionally remaining ignorant of the bad things.

Those looking in from the outside into the statuos quo group, find it pretty hard to ignore these singular multiple global groups, that are rapidly amassing power/money/influence/force/surveillance over what is a very short amount of time history wise, these few examples being some of those bad things i mentioned, especially when there are signs of corruption and obvious signs of rights being ignored…….we see this, we see how it is being forced upon EVERYONE, those who do not intend to join anyone, or feel there is no one worth joining yet…….by enforcing this on everyone outside their supporters is the catalyst to creating opposition…….and because supporters of the status quo believe themselves the good guys, and because big media narrates and reinforces this, opposition is seen to be made by the bad guys, which in many cases is infuriatingly false………..the mere act of opposition is “evil” to them, and ignoring the reasons, the message, behind the opposition is a trigger happy instinct………..another trigger happy instinct being the shooting of the messenger

Since they cant understand why folks wont want to join them for the bad reasons they ignore, and sometimes thanks to the “help” of big media narrating in for these reasons, i suspect that the louder voices in the status quo believe that ANYONE who shows any type of opposition, must automatically be a bad guy, adding the fact that they DONT seem to value life itself, but who a person is, i can understand why, for lack of a better word, they can justify “righteous” murder……..the same thing that is being “justified” by the group their fighthing……… a global war of dominance filled with people who just want to tell both sides to fuck off so we can have a slim fucking chance of peace, instead of perpetual fucking war

mesh of thoughts

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Undermine The Internet

ISIS was not employed as a sworn agent of the executive branch of the United States (police, military, national guard, etc.) when it killed those ten innocent people. It’s not the count that matters, it’s whether you’re purportedly doing it in the course of your state-assigned duties or because you feared for your life while doing your state-assigned duties.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Undermine The Internet

And the United States has killed a hell of a lot more than ten thousand people. The Iraq invasion alone resulted in over 200 thousand documented deaths and an estimated two million people in Iraq who just disappeared without any documentation.

And it could be argued that Isis owes its very existense to the United States, making the US indirectly responsible for all the people killed by Isis.

Aaron Von Gauss (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Undermine The Internet

Not that the “Anonymous Coward” cares about this fact, but for anyone else that doesn’t want to take the time to look at their quoted reference. The web site is not claiming those 206,000 deaths are all US related, rather its saying that many people have died violently since in the “invasion”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Undermine The Internet

All of this misses the point. When the US causes these deaths it is an embarrassment and plenty of people – as in this thread- will raise the issue and try to influence policy to stop it happening again. When ISIS does it they are not embarrassed, they crow about it – it is part of their ideology which does not have a concept of right and wrong – only a concept of allowed and forbidden. On to of that anything that is allowed is compulsory – and killing anyone who disagrees with them is allowed. Only weakness prevents ISIS from killing more people than the US.

I am not condoning US policy here – far from it, I think that US policy in the middle east has been a counterproductive humanitarian disaster but that should not blind us to the nature of the other players in the game.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Undermine The Internet

It’s not saying “beheading videos are illegal” that undermines the internet. It’s saying “platform providers can be criminally liable as though they directly provided ‘technical expertise’ to anyone who simply makes use of their platform” that undermines the internet, and that’s not at all an exaggerated or sensationalized assertion.

Anonymous Coward says:

It seems the videos of the war crimes committed by American soldiers get deleted off Youtube just as quickly as the silly ‘jihadist’ propaganda videos like the kind that try to pretend that an Abrams tank was somehow damaged by a small roadside bomb exploding 10 feet away.

Youtube’s policy on these roadside dust-kicking firecrackers was consistent throughout the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. If the event was *purportedly* filmed by the US side, the video stayed up, but if it was *purportedly* filmed by the anti-US side, it was taken down — even if no one was hurt and even if it was laughably fake.

Youtube was basically a central front in the “Us vs. Them” propaganda war, and being an American company, it was never hard to predict which side’s message would get the seal of approval and which side’s message would get censored from Youtube for whatever reasons.

bob (profile) says:

isn't this the same as...

isn’t this the same as going after a taxi company after a terrorist used their services?
or going after an airline that terrorists used as a weapon, or as transportation?
or a talk show host who discusses what isis is doing and shows some of their atrocities as subject matter?

has isis become “he who shall not be named”?

Anonymous Coward says:

This seems like a rerun of the DAs’ approach to sex trafficking on Craigslist. Instead of looking at the people who are looking at the posts to find potential johns/terrorist sympathizers/”bad guys,” they’d rather just shut down a legit source of intel. But one man’s terrorist propaganda is another man’s historical artifact and teaching material for a current or future college course, so just because people watch it doesn’t mean they’re potential terrorists. See also: journalists, curious non-sympathizers, etc.

Anonymous Coward says: about Google gives them the IP’s of the posters and they use their NSA magic to find them, the uploaders, they probably don’t want to do that since it was found out who al baghdadi really is..(I won’t say much more, search at your own risk, I suggest duckduckgo).

I don’t want these disgusting (and even if sometimes obviously shooped) propaganda videos to be available either. Any normal person of any religion thinks so. They are being unreasonable. Like Google is about their new anti porn blogging, whatever that means (they don’t seem to know either), that guy is out there wrong.

Stephen (user link) says:

Is the DOJ really looking to undermine the entire internet, just because some terrorists have figured out that it’s a good way to get out their message?

Of course not. If they put “the entire Internet” out of business they’d also be putting an end to an lucrative source of intel for the NSA. No more email. No more Skype. No more VOIP phones or Youtube or Facebook.

Americas’s spooks would have to go back to bugging telephones and tramping round dusty foreign places to learn what terrorists are up to instead of doing it by remote control from Fort Meade or Utah.

hegemon13 says:

No, that's not their motivation

“Is the DOJ really looking to undermine the entire internet, just because some terrorists have figured out that it’s a good way to get out their message?”

No, they are looking to undermine the entire internet because they’ve figured out it’s a good platform to fight oppressive government (including his own). Terrorism just makes for convenient propaganda, and for a convenient way to trump up charges against those who speak too loudly and critically.

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