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No Gatekeeper on Hate
A growing number of homegrown extremists are also turning to Twitter.
A May 2013 report on digital hate speech from the Simon Wiesenthal Center says Twitter helped spur a 30% growth in online forums for hate and terrorism over the past year. The study says more than 20,000 "hate-spewing hashtags and handles" appeared on Twitter in 2012, up 5,000 from the year before. The group identified Twitter as a "chief offender" among social media sites because of a lack of monitoring of hate and terrorist content.
Those who monitor extremists online say that as the site of choice for extremists, in their view, Twitter needs a clear, transparent policy as to what content is off-limits, and it has to enforce that policy vigorously.
"They respond to abuse reports, but their criteria for suspension is very limited," says J.M. Berger, a security analyst who is editor of Intelwire, an online magazine that monitors extremist activity. He spotted al-Shabab's tweets during the mall siege and notified Twitter.
"They are broadly permissive of extremist content in a way that other services, like Facebook and YouTube, are not," he said in an e-mail interview.
Twitter, through spokesman Nu Wexler, would not make anyone from the company available for an interview. He directed a reporter to a blog post by the company's head of safety, Del Harvey, who wrote that manually reviewing every tweet is simply not possible. Users post up to 500 million tweets a day in more than 35 languages.
"We use both automated and manual systems to evaluate reports of users potentially violating our Twitter Rules," Harvey wrote. "These rules explicitly bar direct, specific threats of violence against others and use of our service for unlawful purposes, for which users may be suspended when reported."
Closer to home, gangs in the United States have been adding Twitter and Facebook accounts to their arsenals for years in what University of Michigan social work professor Desmond Patton calls "Internet-banging."
"If we think about violence as a disease, one particular host of that disease is social media," he says. (continued...)
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