The UK will struggle to block British-born Islamist insurgents from posting on sites such as Facebook and Twitter because very few posts break guidelines on the social networks, according to people who have been monitoring the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Earlier today, the prime minister’s spokeswomen claimed 15,000 items of “jihadist propaganda” have been removed from the internet due to government pressure. She also said it was trying to remove a recruitment video, There’s No Life Without Jihad, that featured three British fighters.
However Western governments are often unable to stop Islamist fighters posting and discussing about their experiences online because most posts do not violate the rules on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Even when they do, users can easily open new accounts.
A number of ISIS fighters have active and personable accounts on various social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook and Ask.fm and many foreign fighters tweet images of cats, tea and even Coca Cola cans, said Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
However, as long as jihadists do not urge violence or promote extremism they rarely break rules and can keep their social media accounts active for a long time, according to al-Tamimi.
Al-Tamimi has been following ISIS fighters since they first became active online and posts updates on his Twitter profile through updates he receives on Facebook and Twitter. He told BuzzFeed their social media strategy relies on fighters having an active presence on Twitter.
He said: “They can keep blocking them but they can just keep setting up new ones. It goes on endlessly.”
Al-Tamimi also said he had recently noticed ISIS is using the English-language more frequently, not only through recruitment videos but also through using hashtags to blend in with the World Cup, in order to welcome more western fighters.
Neither government nor social networks are therefore able to keep up with the spread of propaganda as ISIS have laid out tentacles that spread across the internet. This is done through powerful – and often fear-mongering – images, penetrating social conversations and, most recently, through videos that feature British nationals promoting violent “holy war” to Muslims in the UK.
Facebook is now making moves to clamp down on users that celebrate violent actions by ISIS, according to people familiar with the guidelines.
Facebook said the social network has community standard to stop the spread of violent propaganda. A spokesperson forwarded a link to its community standard page, which says: “We remove content and may escalate to law enforcement when we perceive a genuine risk of physical harm, or a direct threat to public safety. You may not credibly threaten others, or organize acts of real-world violence.”
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.