Twitter has ramped up its own war with the so-called Islamic State, suspending more and more pro-ISIS accounts with every passing month. A recent report from ABC News quoted people familiar with the operation as saying Twitter has suspended at least 2,000 individual accounts linked to ISIS and ISIS supporters.
And while that seems like a lot, it's barely cracking the surface of the true presence of ISIS on the social network.
The Brookings Institution has just published a lengthy study on how ISIS uses Twitter to spread its message. And according to their estimations, at least 46,000 ISIS-supporting accounts were used from September to December 2014 (not all active at the same time, however).
And that's their low estimate. Brookings says it could be as many as 70,000 – but they feel like the 46,000 estimate is closer to reality.
Brookings also said that Twitter had suspended "at least 1,000" of these accounts.
Twitter didn't have a comment on the report, but did tell the New York Times that "the study had significantly underestimated the number of suspensions."
“We review all reported content against our rules, which prohibit unlawful use and direct, specific threats of violence against others," said the company.
The report found that "typical ISIS supporters were located within the organization’s territories in Syria and Iraq, as well as in regions contested by ISIS. Hundreds of ISIS-supporting accounts sent tweets with location metadata embedded." The most popular location claimed in a profile of an ISIS-related account was Saudi Arabia.
But just how effective are these accounts? And how many people are listening? Here's some good news, from the report:
ISIS-supporting accounts had an average of about 1,000 followers each, considerably higher than an ordinary Twitter user. ISIS-supporting accounts were also considerably more active than non-supporting users ... Much of ISIS’s social media success can be attributed to a relatively small group of hyperactive users, numbering between 500 and 2,000 accounts, which tweet in concentrated bursts of high volume.
Sure, there may be a lot of ISIS accounts out there – but many of them aren't really doing much.
"Account suspensions do have concrete effects in limiting the reach and scope of ISIS activities on social media. They do not, at the current level of implementation, eliminate those activities, and cannot be expected to do this. Some critics argue suspensions are ineffective because ISIS propaganda is still available on Twitter. Any balanced evaluation of current levels of suspension activity clearly demonstrates that total interdiction is not the goal," says the Institution.
Twitter's increased efforts to remove ISIS propaganda from its network has definitely caught the attention of the Islamist group. Members (or supporters) of the group have threatened to kill Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and put a target on the heads of anyone who works for the company.
Image via sakura, Wikimedia Commons