Twitter has suspended more than 125,000 accounts for promoting terrorism related to ISIS since the middle of 2015, the social media firm announced Friday.
The news comes as Obama administration officials have appealed to tech companies such as Twitter to help counter violent extremism online. The company has also been under pressure from groups that track jihadi activity on the Internet to do more to remove ISIS propaganda from its platforms.
"Like most people around the world, we are horrified by the atrocities perpetrated by extremist groups," Twitter said in a blog post tweeted from its account. "We condemn the use of Twitter to promote terrorism." The firm said its rules make clear that such behavior, or any violent threat, is not permitted on its platform.
Twitter, which positions itself as a defender of speech rights, said "we have always sought to strike a balance between the enforcement of our own Twitter Rules covering prohibited behaviors, the legitimate needs of law enforcement, and the ability of users to share their views freely – including views that some people may disagree with or find offensive.'
Seeking to rebut criticism that it has not done enough to counter extremism on its platform, Twitter noted it has increased the size of its teams that review reports of abuse and said that has reduced response time significantly. "We also look into other accounts similar to those reported and leverage proprietary spam-fighting tools to surface other potentially violating accounts for review by our agents," the firm said. "We have already seen results, including an increase in account suspensions and this type of activity shifting off of Twitter."
In its blog post, Twitter pointed to news stories covering what the company had done to crack down on accounts linked to ISIS.
— مركز صواب (@sawabcenter) October 11, 2015
Soon after Twitter's announcement, Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition, tweeted out his support for the social media company's actions.
— Brett McGurk (@brett_mcgurk) February 5, 2016
Last month, the widow of a military contractor killed in a Nov. 9 terrorist attack in Amman sued Twitter, alleging that Twitter "knowingly permitted the terrorist group ISIS to use its social network as a tool for spreading extremist propaganda, raising funds and attracting new recruits." The Florida woman is seeking damages for allegedly violating the Anti-Terrorism Act by providing material support to terrorists. Her civil suit was filed in federal court in Oakland, Calif.
Though national security lawyers say her case is unlikely to succeed, it has increased the pressure on social media companies to remove posts linked to terrorism.
Twitter began mass suspensions of ISIS and other terrorism-related accounts in early 2014. It shut down 10,000 accounts in one 24-hour span alone last April.
A Brookings Institution study estimated that from September through December 2014, at least 46,000 Twitter accounts were used by ISIS supporters, though not all were active at the same time. Often, experts say, when accounts are suspended, new ones pop up--sometimes several in one day.
Last month, an unusually large gathering of President Obama's top national security officials --including the attorney general and FBI director--met with tech firm senior executives in Silicon Valley to discuss ways to use technology to "disrupt paths to radicalization to violence” and “identify recruitment patterns” as well as to measure efforts to countering radicalization, according to an agenda obtained by The Washington Post.
It followed President Obama's televised call after the San Bernardino, Calif. shootings in December for tech leaders to “make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice.”
The firm said it partners with groups seeking to counter online extremist content and cooperates with law enforcement agencies when appropriate.