Facebook, Twitter must wake up to threats from terror accounts

Facebook, Twitter must wake up to threats from terror accounts

By VAIBHAV AGGARWAL | 19 December, 2015
Networks should have specific tools built in for a large country like India, to help curb posts that incite users.

In February 2015, India banned the terrorist organisation ISIS under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, stating that it is involved in the radicalisation and recruitment of vulnerable youth from various countries including India. And now, Facebook declines to remove the ISIS’ Facebook page, on a complaint by a reader in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris. Their reason for not removing the page is that it “does not violate” their “community standards and policies”. It’s the same story with Twitter, where you can freely access ISIS’ Khalifa News. Corporate or social responsibility does not appear to be a business trait for either company.

In this digital age, propaganda is no longer bound by the limitations of geography. It is reaching “galactic” proportions. It’s all available there, you just need to click. Will social networks like Facebook and Twitter wake up to the threats looming large on the entire human race?

India is facing a threat to its national security from every direction. It being a tolerant and a moderately open society, allows and encourages businesses to come and set up shop here. It is not mandatory for multinationals doing business in India to set up a legal shop here according to the law of the land. For example, Facebook and Twitter work with the government and other establishments but when asked about their responsibility towards their traffic or processing of information they have nothing to give to India. Since their servers are located outside of India, they are not covered by Indian laws. There is no consumer protection for Indian users.

Today, if an individual user posts something objectionable on any of the social network sites, a whole lot of red-tapism is involved to get these removed, or ban the users with wrongful intentions from publishing similar posts in the future. There does the government have a framework nor do these sites take any public responsibility to monitor and moderate the content either suo-moto or through a channel easily accessible to the common user/informant.

Here, it is pertinent to note here that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube move very swiftly on complaints when people with unlimited power in the country’s administration ask them to remove, tweak, or ban any content.

We have to understand the problem within their system and the nature of their businesses. Their work is global in nature and relies on self-policing or monitoring by the users to check, identify and flag objectionable content. However, once an account has been banned, the account holder can simply open another account with different credentials and continue to post hateful messages. These sites do not have any security controls or built in measures to prevent such an eventuality.

There are no email addresses where I can write to them and ask for their policies specific to India, as to how they handle the ISIS related propaganda. There are no numbers where I can call seeking clarifications on my account security or at least their commitment to India’s security measures.

Neither the laws in India nor the privacy or community standards set by these social organisations are doing much to support the Indian community at large. But when it comes to doing business with the Indian consumer, they are minting money.

In my opinion, these networks are more than welcome in a country like ours, enabling us to communicate with the rest of the world, but I also think that such networks should have specific tools built in for a diverse and a large country like India, to help us curb posts that incite users. One such measure could be the verification of the user account by way of Aadhaar number or a photo ID. These behemoth MNCs should work with the government, under Indian laws to create a healthy and safe environment for us Indians. This will also result in a sustainable business environment for them. From the government perspective, this will give rise to a debate on the nature of the postings. Compared to this, a blanket policy of banning or censorship may actually cause damage on grounds of curbing free speech.

Earlier this year, I was surprised to read in Huffington Post that Facebook removed Britain First’s leader Paul Golding’s anti-ISIS post as it did not adhere to the site’s community standards. Of course, later Facebook restored the content.

Similarly, in June 2014, as reported by Rahat Hussain via Washington Times, Facebook refused to take down an ISIS fan page. Many more such sightings are taking place on the Internet, internationally which is not helping my sense of social or national security.

At the time of writing this article, on performing a dip stick research, I find that there are dozens of ISIS propaganda pages or content on Facebook and Twitter. In fact, Twitter had over 46,000 ISIS supporter accounts around the end of 2014 and the number is growing. YouTube is full of jihadi or extremist videos.

The question is: whose responsibility is it to monitor such user accounts or content? The government’s or the service provider’s? These websites do not seem to be doing much.

Facebook’s Community Standards page says: “Organizations with a record of terrorist or violent criminal activity are not allowed to maintain a presence on our site.” Despite this, numerous “reports” from Facebook users go unheeded.

“Because of the diversity of our community, it’s possible that something could be disagreeable or disturbing to you without meeting the criteria for being removed or blocked” says the Facebook Community Standards page, although it is not apparent how a fan page for a group banned by Al Qaeda for being too extreme does not meet Facebook’s criteria for removal.

The “best” part is that these so called fan pages and content, redirect the users (whose numbers cross a million) to the websites controlled by the ISIS and other terrorist organisations.

As reported by Countercurrentnews.com, on 14 November 2015, Facebook had banned “Anonymous”, the friendly hacker group, from exposing ISIS recruiters. Since then there has been no update from Facebook on the matter. Several questions have been sent to them but no reply has been received.

My recommendation to the government would be simple, ask websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to host their servers in India and adhere to the law of the land. The government should be pro-active in taking public support on gathering counter terrorism intelligence and should be able to create a taskforce to analyse, interpret, filter and process the intelligence gathered. Use the media to create a smart platform to disseminate information in an interactive format.

Vaibhav Aggarwal is the Catalyst & Group Ceo of Blade-Brains™ Group, India.


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