FBI's Comey: Actually, Chasing ISIS Off Twitter Makes It More Difficult For Us To Follow Them
from the things-to-think-about dept
Over and over again we keep hearing politicians and others going on and on about the need for social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to kick ISIS users off their platforms. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have called for this. And some people at these companies are supportive of this idea. Twitter regularly feels compelled to talk about how many ISIS accounts it removes.
Yet, as we’ve pointed out each time it’s done so, this seems backwards. We’ve noted that intelligence officials have claimed that they actually get really good intelligence from following these social media accounts. But generally those voices aren’t heard as much. So it’s actually great to see FBI Direct James Comey (someone we rarely agree with) come out and say it directly: kicking ISIS members off Twitter makes things more difficult for law enforcement.
“We are making good progress with the help of companies like Twitter at chasing the Islamic State” off the platform?the microblogging site has suspended hundreds of thousands of accounts promoting terrorism?but Comey said the challenge is that such efforts push some users “to a place where they?re less able to proselytize broadly but more able to communicate in a secure way. [We’ve] chased them to apps like Telegram.?
Now, of course, this all seems part of Comey’s effort to then demonize encryption. But there is a larger point here: when terrorists are using social media and revealing useful info, why should we try to kick them off those platforms? Let them make mistakes.
I know that the big fear from some is that letting ISIS use Twitter means they can better “recruit” but almost every study on this notes that online recruitment isn’t really that effective. Most recruitment happens from people who actually know people. And cutting ISIS people off from Twitter also kills off good opportunities for counterspeech, like the time that an ISIS leader called on Muslims to join ISIS, and a whole bunch of Muslims responded with mocking tweets instead:
Yes, yes, I know that people saying stuff we disagree with online is very scary — but silencing them has serious costs as well. So, yes, here’s a rare instance where we agree with James Comey: pushing ISIS members off of Twitter is a bad idea. It harms the ability of law enforcement to follow them (and, gives Comey more opportunities to whine about encryption). Just keep them on Twitter and let law enforcement and the intelligence community follow them.