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Top Social Media Networks in US working together to Remove Photos and Videos used to Recruit People into Terrorism

Twitter suspended 235,000 accounts between February and August this year and has expanded the teams reviewing reports of extremist content

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FILE - A 3-D printed logo of Twitter and an Islamic State flag are seen in this picture illustration taken Feb. 18, 2016. VOA
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December 6, 2016: The top social media networks in the United States say they are working together to quickly identify and take down photos and video that are used to recruit people into terrorism.

Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and YouTube announced Monday that they will create a shared database that identifies flagged images and video using unique “fingerprints,” making it easier for the companies to review and potentially remove the content.

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They said each company will then determine whether the material violates their terms of service.

“We hope this collaboration will lead to greater efficiency as we continue to enforce our policies to help curb the pressing global issue of terrorist content online,” the companies said in a statement. “There is no place for content that promotes terrorism on our hosted consumer services.”

FILE - An Islamic State militant holds a gun while standing behind what are said to be Ethiopian Christians in Wilayat Fazzan, in this still image from an undated video made available on a social media website on April 19, 2015. VOA
FILE – An Islamic State militant holds a gun while standing behind what are said to be Ethiopian Christians in Wilayat Fazzan, in this still image from an undated video made available on a social media website on April 19, 2015. VOA

The internet giants have come under increasing pressure from governments around the world to do more to remove extremist material.

In the United States, lawmakers have introduced legislation that would require social media companies to report to police any online terrorist activities they learn about.

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Most social media services have terms of agreement that prohibit content that supports violent or illegal activities. The companies typically rely on users to flag inappropriate content, which is then reviewed by editors.

Twitter suspended 235,000 accounts between February and August this year and has expanded the teams reviewing reports of extremist content.

The new database will be up and running by early 2017, and more companies could be brought into the partnership.

Check out NewsGram for latest international news updates.

The European Union set up an EU Internet Forum last year bringing together the internet companies, interior ministers and the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator to find ways of removing extremist content.

The forum will meet again Thursday, when ministers are expected to ask the companies about their efforts and helping to provide evidence to convict foreign fighters. (VOA)

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Twitter Releases Tweets Showing Attempts Of Influence On U.S. Politics From Foreign Countries

All of the accounts linked to the massive trove of tweets released by Twitter have been suspended or deleted.

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The Twitter logo is shown at its corporate headquarters in San Francisco, California. VOA

On Wednesday, Twitter released a collection of more than 10 million tweets related to thousands of accounts affiliated with Russia’s Internet Research Agency propaganda organization, as well as hundreds more troll accounts, including many based in Iran.

The data, analyzed and released in a report by The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, are made up of 3,841 accounts affiliated with the Russia-based Internet Research Agency, 770 other accounts potentially based in Iran as well as 10 million tweets and more than 2 million images, videos and other media.

Russian trolls targeting U.S. politics took on personas from both the left and the right. Their primary goal appears to have been to sow discord, rather than promote any particular side, presumably with a goal of weakening the United States, the report said.

DFRlab says the Russian trolls were often effective, drawing tens of thousands of retweets on certain posts including from celebrity commentators like conservative Ann Coulter.

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The Internet Research Agency building, dubbed the Russian troll factory, is seen at Savushkina Street in St. Petersburg, Russia. VOA

Some of the tweets posted:

“Judgement Day is here. Please vote #TrumpPence16 to save our great nation from destruction! #draintheswamp #TrumpForPresident,” said a fake Election Day tweet in 2016.

“Daily reminder: Trump still hasn’t imposed sanctions on Russia that were passed 4,193 in the House and 982 in the Senate. Shouldn’t that be grounds for impeachment?” said another tweet in March of this year.

Multiple goals

The Russian operation had multiple goals, including interfering in the U.S. presidential election, polarizing online communities, and weakening trust in American institutions, according to the DFRLab.

“The thing to understand is that the Russians were equal opportunity partisans,” Graham Brookie, one of the researchers behind the analysis, told VOA News. “There was a very specific focus on specific ideological communities and specific demographics.”

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The 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, speaks at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council in Washington. VOA

Following an initial push to prevent Hillary Clinton from being elected in 2016, the analysis identified a “second wave” of fake accounts, many of which were focused on infiltrating anti-Trump groups, especially those identified with the “Resistance” movement, exploiting sensitive issues such as race relations and gun violence. These often achieved greater impact than their conservative counterparts.

“Don’t ever tell me kneeling for the flag is disrespectful to our troops when Trump calls a sitting Senator “Pocahontas” in front of Native American war heroes,” tweeted an account posing as an African-American woman named “Luisa Haynes” under the handle @wokeluisa in November 2017. The tweet garnered more than 32,000 retweets and over 89,000 likes.

“They tried to inflame everybody, regardless of race, creed, politics or sexual orientation,” the Lab noted in its analysis. “On many occasions, they pushed both sides of divisive issues.”

Iran trolling

Iran’s trolling was primarily focused on promoting its own interests, including attacking regional rivals like Israel and Saudi Arabia.

However, Iran’s trolling was less effective than the Russian posts, with most tweets getting limited responses.

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Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on foreign influence operations and their use of social media on Capitol Hill. VOA

This was partially because of posting styles that were less inflammatory, according to the report.

“Few of the accounts showed distinctive personalities: They largely shared online articles,” according to the report. “As such, they were a poor fit for Twitter, where personal comment tends to resonate more strongly than website shares.” Generally, many troll posts were ineffective, and “their operations were washed away in the firehose of Twitter.”

All of the accounts linked to the massive trove of tweets released by Twitter have been suspended or deleted, and the analysis notes that overall activity from suspected Russian trolls fell this year after Twitter clampdowns in September and June 2017.

Also Read: Facebook Better Prepared To Defend Itself Against External Manipulation For The Elections

But, that does not mean political trolls do not still pose a threat.

“Identifying future foreign influence operations, and reducing their impact, will demand awareness and resilience from the activist communities targeted, not just the platforms and the open source community,” according to the report. (VOA)