Opportunistic Politicians Lean On The FBI And Twitter To Shut Down Terrorist Accounts

from the and-then-what?-linkedin? dept

I have no idea what it is with certain politicians that makes them believe they can somehow "curb" violence by cordoning off a section of the internet. They don't seem to realize that determined individuals will simply route around their half-assed roadblock without breaking a sweat. Even worse, they don't seem to realize that useful information on violent groups and individuals can often be gleaned from the very same lines of communication they're trying to cut.

In this case, it's very much like grandstanding politicians trying to shut down "human traffickers" like Backpages and Craigslist, failing to understand that law enforcement can use the same services to track down offenders. Rather than look for the upside of having a live feed from the enemy front (or realize the ultimate futility of their efforts), these lawmakers have chosen to throw a bunch of effort (or at least, words) behind a bad idea.
Seven House Republicans asked the FBI in September to demand that Twitter take down the accounts of U.S.-designated terrorist groups, such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Somalia's al Shabaab. The letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller was spearheaded by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), who said Wednesday that the recent events vindicated the request.

“Allowing foreign terrorist organizations like Hamas to operate on Twitter is enabling the enemy,” Poe said in an e-mailed statement to The Hill. “Failure to block access arms them with the ability to freely spread their violent propaganda and mobilize in their War on Israel.
Now, I'm not going to claim to be smarter than these politicians (although you're certainly welcome to make that claim for me in the comment threads), but I'm curious as to how they arrived at the conclusion that blocking Twitter accounts would somehow result in less violence committed by terrorists. One could argue that breaking down a line of communication might result in some temporary disruption, but I've got to believe that Twitter isn't the only line of communication Hamas has.

Shutting down these accounts would do little more than a) make these politicians feel better about having done something, b) annoy (and possibly provoke) already irritable and violent groups, and c) move communication anti-terrorist entities rely on to a new channel possibly unavailable to them. The downside easily outweighs the upside, because the "upside" only benefits these seven lawmakers, giving them a feeling of power and self-righteousness, which will be cold comfort to those who might actually be using these feeds to glean intelligence and help defend themselves.

Then there's this amazing sentence, which must have been composed by Poe at a cost of one IQ point per letter:
The FBI and Twitter must recognize sooner rather than later that social media is a tool for the terrorists.
Any form of information dissemination can be considered a "tool" for terrorists. Imbuing Twitter with some sort of terrorist-defeating powers is ridiculous. Berating the FBI and Twitter for aiding and abetting terrorism through inaction is even more so. This is merely a continuation of Poe's anti-Twitter obsession, which began back in September when he first penned a letter to the FBI requesting the takedown of these "terrorist" accounts, citing (of all things), Twitter's decision to block a neo-Nazi account in Germany. (The account could still be read anywhere else in the world, or even in Germany with minimal effort.)

Poe is once again attempting to use Twitter's own statement against it, but the FBI just isn't giving this group of lawmakers the one thing they need to get their way:
“Twitter maintains that it will take down any account requested by the FBI,” seven Republican members of Congress wrote to the FBI last month. “As of this writing, the FBI has not made a single request to Twitter to take an account down.”
And (once again), Poe and his co-signers are using recent events to further their own agenda.
“Not one account has been shut down, unlike on YouTube and Facebook,” Poe told the Free Beacon.

“Twitter is not going to take it upon themselves to shut them down,” which is why the FBI needs to take action, Poe said.
The FBI isn't buying it, however.
FBI Special Agent Jason Pack told the Free Beacon, “The FBI received the Congressman’s letter and will respond to it appropriately.”
One assumes Pack "responded" by tossing the angry letter into the nearest trash can, possibly running it through the shredder first. The latest missive means someone at the FBI will need to empty the trash can, but given the results of Poe's previous demands, I highly doubt Twitter will be shuttering any accounts.

Poe has also expressed his disappointment in the Obama administration for not pushing for more Twitter shutdowns.
Poe speculated that one reason the Obama administration has not pursued the issue is because terrorists’ Twitter pages are a rich vein for the intelligence community to mine.

Poe, however, said that this is not a good enough reason to give these radical actors free rein on the Internet.

“If that’s [the administration’s] only way of knowing” what terrorists are up to, “we’ve got some serious problems with our intelligence service,” Poe said.
There's Poe's problem. He views Twitter as the only thing. In his mind, it's the only source of communication for terrorists and it's the only source of intel for the intelligence community. Poe has seized on Twitter as the only problem and won't be dissuaded easily, no matter how often the FBI refuses to indulge his "social media = terror" hobby horse.
The Free Beacon's Republican slant inadvertently suggests that Poe may just be kicking around Twitter because its "best friends" with Obama.

Twitter’s Washington D.C. lobbying team is comprised of several Obama administration confidants and former Democratic Hill staffers. Adam Sharp, the site’s top government liaison, formerly served as deputy chief of staff for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.). Its global public policy official, Colin Crowell, was a senior aide to Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), while Twitter’s head of international strategy, Katie Jacobs Stanton, once worked with the Obama administration on new media strategies.

Since 2011, several individuals who list their employer as Twitter have donated primarily to Democrats, including the Obama campaign and Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren.
So... maybe it's not really about terrorism. Maybe it's just good, old fashioned partisanship sporting War on Terror clothing. No matter how you slice it, though, there's only one thing it truly is: stupid.

Reader Comments

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  1. identicon
    Michael, 26 Nov 2012 @ 11:24am

    Re: Hamas vs freedom of ...

    "Actually, assuming you agree that Hamas IS real terrorist organization, shutting down it's Twitter (or any else) account is perfectly valid thing to do"

    Why? What point does it serve? The article is pointing out that it is probably unlikely to harm Hamas very much to take down their Twitter account, but it does remove a potential source of intelligence on Hamas activities. So, taking down the feed seems like a poor strategy.

    It also underpins one of the complaints of Hamas - that the United States government is, in fact, not as pro-freedom as they claim to be (we don't like your views, so we are going to pressure a corporation to censor you).

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