Social Media Is Terrorism’s New Platform

January 11th, 2017 by Attorney Dan Carman

Humans crave information and interaction. These basic needs underlie the popularity of the Internet, which has the added bonuses of being convenient and easy to use. As of June 30, 2016, almost half of the world’s population is reported to be using the Internet – a total of over 3.6 billion people. In the United States alone, there are over 286 million Internet users and 201 million Facebook users (a 62 percent penetration rate).

This makes online social media a ripe opportunity for terrorists to disseminate their messages while leaving public officials and private companies to figure out what is permissible under First Amendment protections. A blanket policy of banning anything that could be construed as inciting violence could lead to censorship concerns and legal liability because one person’s hateful propaganda can be perceived as another’s free speech. Some terror groups have used common platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to gain followers as well as spread fear, and simply open a new account if they find themselves banned.

For example, concerns about radical Islamic videos on YouTube were voiced in 2008. Two years later, YouTube debuted the option for users to flag a video as inappropriate because it “promotes terrorism.” The killer in the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub was radicalized at least in some part through the internet. He used multiple Facebook accounts to write posts and make searches about the Islamic State (ISIS), even while carrying out the attack. The perpetrator of an extremist act of terrorism in France posted a 12-minute video to Facebook during the incident, claiming he was responding to a call from ISIS. Twitter has been used by ISIS propagandists to promote their cause and recruit would-be militants. In fact, the terrorist group al-Shabab is known to have live-tweeted throughout the Nairobi mall attack in 2013.

So far, Facebook has taken a hard line and claims that any profile, page, or group related to a terrorist organization is shut down and any content celebrating terrorism is removed. From February 2015 to February 2016, Twitter says that it suspended more than 360,000 accounts that were in violation of its terrorism policy. Twitter Rules clearly state, “You may not make threats of violence or promote violence, including threatening or promoting terrorism,” but analyzing what breaks those rules is not easy. In fact, legal actions have been filed by the families of victims in two terror attacks, alleging that Facebook, Twitter, and Google have played decisive roles in the “explosive growth of ISIS over the last few years.” Both cases are based on a federal statute that allows victims of terror attacks to seek damages from any party that provides communication facilities that lend support to attackers.

Of course, ISIS is not the only terror group that uses social media to advance its agenda and new platforms are coming out all the time. If you have been charged with a terrorism-related crime, or if you have questions about how the law might apply to your situation, discuss it with one of the attorneys at the Lexington, KY-based Carman Law Firm. Everyone deserves a fair trial; and as criminal defense attorneys with years of experience, we offer thorough, experienced representation. Call today at (859) 685-1055 or fill out this online contact form to find out how we can help you.