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.

Filed Under: censorship, encryption, fbi, isis, james comey, law enforcement, social media, surveillance
Companies: twitter


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  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 4 Oct 2016 @ 8:52am

    I love the internet.
    "Only if there is free pizza."
    "My dad said I have to be home by 8. Will we be done by then?"
    LOL.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 4 Oct 2016 @ 8:55am

    Really?

    I am having a difficult time accepting that Comey said something intelligent, given the rest of the crap he spews.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2016 @ 9:12am

      Re: Really?

      I guess this is so blatantly obvious, even he can find it apparent?
      On the other hand, if they kick the terrorists off their platforms, what excuse would the FBI/NSA/etc. have to snoop around them? So it could just be self-serving.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 4 Oct 2016 @ 9:58am

      Re: Really?

      Dear Mr. Comey,

      When you "follow" ISIS on FaceTwit, you should probably not use a FaceTwit account that says something like "FBI", "CIA", etc. And be aware that this increases the count of followers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2016 @ 2:31pm

      Re: Really?

      Underestimating Comey's intelligence is a pretty grave mistake. Differentiate between disagreeing with his methods and his justifications, and his intelligence.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2016 @ 11:16am

    Advice from two centuries ago

    "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake." -- Napoleon

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Aaron Walkhouse (profile), 4 Oct 2016 @ 12:00pm

    Here's a simple idea:

    Instead of kicking them off completely confine them to their
    own echo chamber so they [and the TLAs] can only see each other.

    The few smart ones will notice they are no longer visible
    to the public but the rest will blissfully go on, giving
    valuable information to law enforcement for several years.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tom (profile), 4 Oct 2016 @ 12:25pm

    Years ago, politicians strong armed ISPs to shutdown their USENET newsgroup servers since several of the newsgroups catered to the child porn crowd. Once most of the ISPs complied, law enforcement then announced they were having a much harder time tracking child porn distributors since they moved to a more point to point login account required system.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dont believe Comey, 4 Oct 2016 @ 2:09pm

    Comey Lies

    Comey is laughable.

    Comey wants Isis on twitter because it is very likely a lot of the ISIS twitter chat is being conducted by FBI and CIA plants. Without ISIS, how can the "war on terror" and the over bloated inteligence budgets be justified?

    Don't believe a damn thing that comes out of Comey's mouth. Comey has shown his true colors and he is an American traitor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2016 @ 4:44pm

    I thought the same thing when I read that Twitter was ratcheting up their account closures. It's been pretty incredible to have access to their communications in such a wide open way. Unfortunately you never beat an adversary when you just plug your ears and eyes to the messages they're sending

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whatever, 4 Oct 2016 @ 5:42pm

    James is so dreamy, I want him to "comey" all over my face. Or inside me, I'm really not picky.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Mayor, 4 Oct 2016 @ 10:42pm

    THE FBI VS THE UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE

    But Mike!... this is the same practice that got the FBI in trouble, re Playpen! In fact!... the FBI started acting as if they were the "bad guys", in order to-- supposedly!-- "sucker-in" the "real bad guys"!
    .
    Mike!... to paraphrase the late author Aldous Huxley:... "The ends don't justify our use of just any means... for the means we use, will determine the very nature of the ends produced!" And simply stated!... we can't be aiding crime, in order to prevent it!... to do so, is to become the criminal!
    .
    There are numerous ways to "tag" the "bad guys", without having to "become the bad guys", or facilitate what the "bad guys" are doing! And if the FBI can't figure out how to secure the clues they need without having to compromise a "conscionable ethos", then it's time to give the task of "clue management" to another "Security stakeholder"!
    .
    Please!... no emails!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Gunnar, 4 Oct 2016 @ 11:50pm

    Different el-Baghdadi

    This is completely mistaken. Iyad el-Baghdadi is not the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he is a human rights activist living in exile in Norway, citing ISIS-leaders, but certainly not agreeing.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-35210527

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Whatever (profile), 5 Oct 2016 @ 8:15am

    Actually, I am thinking that if ISIS is harder to follow by the FBI or Homeland or whoever, then they must generally be harder to follow by the general public as well.

    Anything that helps keep young people from radicalizing and joining the (insanely stupid) cause is perhaps not such a bad thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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