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‘Twitter terrorist’ woman jailed for three years, says was promoting interest of Sunnis in Iran

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terrorismA young woman has been jailed for three-and-half years for openly advocating violent jihad and instigating people on Twitter to indulge in “terrorist activities”.

Alaa Esayed, 22, posted more than 45,000 tweets in Arabic on an open account to her 8,240 followers between June 2013 and May 2014, The Guardian reported. Her Twitter account — with profile picture of a burqa-clad, kalashnikov- wielding woman — was even noticed by al-Qaida, which listed it as among the 66 most important jihadi accounts.

Esayed, from Kennington, south London, was sentenced at the Old Bailey on June 11 after pleading guilty to encouraging terrorism. “This material and its dissemination is an important factor in the encouragement of young men and women to travel abroad and engage in acts of terrorism,” Judge Charles Wide said.

“It is a matter of great and justified public concern. You were disseminating such material on a massive scale over a period of just short of a year. An indication of how busy you were in this activity is that on a site associated with al-Qaida your Twitter account was noted to be one of 66 important jihadi accounts.”

He told her she knew “perfectly well” what she had been doing, despite initially claiming she only wanted to learn about Muslim struggles in Iraq, Syria and Palestine and was merely cutting and pasting from other sources with her limited understanding of written Arabic.

Esayed said she was promoting the interests of the Sunni community in Iraq from Shia military forces. Because of her “blatant untruthfulness” the judge said, he had difficulty accepting anything she said through her lawyer. However, he did accept there was no evidence to suggest she was planning to engage in terrorism herself or had posted anything of a “practical nature”.

Esayed was brought up in Mosul, Iraq, and came to Britain with her family in 2007 after her father, who worked for the military, was forced to flee the country. Most of Esayed’s posts were cut and pasted from other sources and she insisted she did not support violent jihad.

In her statement to the police after her arrest Esayed said she had no intention of being a martyr and she could not even read or write Arabic well. Her lawyer, Tanveer Qureshi, said in mitigation: “Yes, she is a Twitter terrorist, but she is a Twitter terrorist who lacked creativity. She did not have a blog. She was blindly cutting and pasting.” He said her postings were just propaganda and there was no practical advice to any budding terrorists.

– (IANS)

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Social Media Giants Face Complications Dealing With Online Offensive Speech

Tech companies are known for constantly tweaking their products and software. Now it seems they are taking the same approach with speech.

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Social media. Offensive Speech
An iPhone with Twitter, Facebook and other apps, May 21, 2013. U.S. internet companies are taking a harder look at their policies that have promoted free expression around the world.. VOA

Twitter users are blocking companies like Pepsi, Nike and Uber on Twitter to pressure the social media firm to permanently ban American broadcaster Alex Jones for what they say are his abusive tweets and offensive speech.

Meanwhile, Twitter reportedly is facing a shutdown in Pakistan because of a government request to block what it deems objectionable content.

The moves come as U.S. internet companies take a harder look at their policies that have promoted free expression around the world. The companies have a mostly hands-off policy when it comes to curtailing speech, except when it comes to inciting violence and pornography. But that largely permissive approach is getting a new look.

Alex Jones
Alex Jones from Infowars.com speaks during a rally in support of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump near the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. VOA

Twitter and Alex Jones

Twitter recently slapped a seven-day ban on conservative American radio host Jones for violating its policy on abusive speech, when he appeared to call for violence against the media, something he denies.

On his show this week, Jones noted that Twitter had removed his videos.

“They took me down,” he said. “Because they will not let me have a voice.”

Earlier this month, Apple, Spotify, Facebook, YouTube and other social media limited Jones and his InfoWars media company from their sites. But InfoWars’ live-streaming app can still be found at Google and Apple’s app stores. The on-air personality has put forth conspiracy theories calling some U.S. mass shootings hoaxes.

No more hands off

Internet firms are moving away from the long-held position that they didn’t want to monitor expression on their sites too closely, Irina Raicu, director of the Internet Ethics Program at Santa Clara University, said.

“The companies are stuck in the middle and no longer trying to avoid responsibility in a way that I think they were even a few years ago when they were saying we are just neutral platforms,” Raicu said. “They are increasingly taking a more open role in determining what content moderation looks like.”

It’s not just in the U.S. where the internet companies are having to make hard decisions about speech. The firms are also grappling with extreme speech in other languages.

Comments on Facebook have been linked to violence in places like Myanmar and India. A recent article by the Reuters news agency reports that negative messages about Myanmar’s Rohingya minority group were throughout its site.

social media apps
It’s not just in the U.S. where the internet companies are having to make hard decisions about speech. Wikimedia

Some call on social media companies to do more to target and take down hate messages before they lead to violence.

“If Facebook is bent on removing abusive words and nudity, they should be focused on removing these words as well,” said Abhinay Korukonda, a student from Mumbai, India, who is studying at the University of California, Berkeley. “This comes under special kinds of abusive terms. They should take an action. They should definitely remove these.”

Objective standards

Ming Hsu studies decision-making at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. He is researching how to come up with objective standards for determining whether certain speech could lead to real-world dangers against people both in the U.S. and across the globe.

“We don’t have actionable standards for policymakers or for companies or even lay people to say, ‘This is crossing the boundaries, this is way past the boundaries and this is sort of OK,’” Hsu said.

Those calls are even harder when looking at speech in other languages and cultures, he added.

Also Read: Twitter CEO Expands on Why He Won’t Ban Alex Jones, Infowars

“We don’t really have any intuition for who’s right, who is wrong and who is being discriminated against,” Hsu said. “And that gets back to relying on common sense and how fragile that is.”

Tech companies are known for constantly tweaking their products and software. Now it seems they are taking the same approach with speech as they draw the line between free expression and reducing harm. (VOA)