Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy
who recently published a report on the use of social media by jihadist
groups, says if groups have their accounts deleted they will just create
new ones. "It creates a situation where it's like 'whack-a-mole,' where something
will go offline but then it will create a new account and it will stay
online for a little while, and then will be taken offline again and so
it's this cat-and-mouse-type game," Zelin said.
That's exactly what happened in December in Pakistan, when Facebook
suspended the account of the Pakistani Taliban's media branch, Umar
Media. The page was taken down because it violated Facebook's rules on
fan pages that promote terrorism. Two weeks later a new Umar Media
account had been created on Facebook, although it's unclear if it
belongs to the same group.
As private companies, Twitter and Facebook can allow anyone they like on
their platforms. But because of their vast number of global users,
Internet theorists have likened them to public spaces -- a global town
square for the digital age.
Pressure From Governments
Twitter is widely considered a leader among social networks in its
commitment to free speech, but some activists are concerned about what
they say is the platform's lack of clear policies when it comes to
dealing with extremist or terrorist organizations. "Twitter really doesn't have much of a policy related to the terrorist
organizations on their platform," Zelin says. "If somebody is inciting
someone or a group of people with violence and it's an imminent threat,
then they will take it down like they did with the Al-Shabaab account." Facebook and Twitter representatives did not answer requests for interviews.
Rebecca MacKinnon, an expert on Internet censorship and a senior fellow
at the New America Foundation, explains that in addition to the sites'
terms of service -- the rules that govern user and platform behavior --
social networks are also subject to the law of the various governments
where they are operating.
When it comes to government demands, Twitter, for example, functions on a
country-by-country basis. "Hopefully what they are doing is responding
to legally binding requests. So if the government has a legally binding
order and makes it clear that the content in question is against the
law, then the service is obligated to take it down or block it,"
MacKinnon says. In October, Twitter blocked a neo-Nazi account after a request from the
German government, which argued that the account violated its laws
against hate speech.
In its first two Transparency Reports, which Twitter began releasing in
2012, the company said that there has been a steady increase in
government requests for content removal and copyright notices. In the
majority of cases, Twitter says it has not complied with the government
requests to take down the content.