JOINT RELEASE: Bipartisan Group Probes for Answers on Terrorist Organizations Use of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube to Spread Extremist Propaganda

Hezbollah and Hamas have active Twitter accounts

f t # e
Washington, September 17, 2019 | comments

 

Today, Tuesday, September 17, 2019, U.S. Congressmen Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5), Tom Reed (NY-23), and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-1) sent a bipartisan letter to the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube regarding the dangerous presence of foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs), including Hezbollah and Hamas, on social media platforms and the terrorist organizations’ ability to spew extremism and hate online.

The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) assesses that nearly every one of the U.S. Statement Department's 68 designated FTOs has a social media presence.

Hezbollah shares the bulk of their postings through Al Manar, a pro-Hezbollah broadcaster, which has an active Twitter feed with 481,000 followers. Hamas has an active English language Twitter account with more than 72,000 followers.

The bipartisan group is probing for answers on:

  1. The number of U.S. State Department-identified FTOs that have active accounts on those platforms;
  2. The number of affiliate groups for each FTO that post propaganda content on behalf of the FTO;
  3. A detailed plan and timeline for how to remove FTO content and accounts as well as propaganda accounts that further spread terrorist content;
  4. Any policies or procedures in consideration to permanently ban FTO content and accounts from each of those platforms; and
  5. How those platforms determine which FTO content to remove in comparison to content from groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, which remain active

The letter was sent today to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki.

Today’s bipartisan letter comes as many in the United States and around the world are increasingly worried about the rising trends in online radicalization. Streaming of terrorist activity has gone viral around the world. For example, Facebook had to remove footage of the March 2019 Christchurch mass murder of 51 people over 1.5 million times within the first 24 hours as it went viral on the platform

“We need to be exploring every option to stop these foreign terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas and other radicals, from spewing their hate and their extremist views to the masses,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “I want to make sure Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are doing enough to get these terrorist accounts and their propaganda off these platforms. These tech companies need to be standing with us in our global fight against terror.”

“We care about ensuring terrorist organizations cannot spew extremism and hate on the internet. There is no fair reason for Twitter, Facebook, or any other online platform, to allow terrorist to post their propaganda and incite further fear after their cowardly attacks. This is why the American people deserve to know what social media companies are doing to eliminate the use of their websites for terrorist organizations,” said Congressman Tom Reed (NY-23).

“In today’s interconnected world, it is all too easy for nefarious organizations to capitalize on the availability of social media to promote their misguided and immoral goals,” said Congressman Fitzpatrick (PA-1). “Congress must partner with the private sector to ensure that hateful groups are not given the platforms they so desperately want. Moreover, it is imperative that tech companies work with government officials to eliminate the online presence of foreign terrorist organizations.”

The signed letter can be viewed HERE.

The full text of the letter can be found below.

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg, Mr. Dorsey, and Ms. Wojcicki:

We write regarding our concern about the presence of foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) on your social media platforms and their ability to spew extremism and hate online through your platforms.

According to the State Department, there are currently 68 designated FTOs. The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) assesses that nearly every FTO on this list has a social media presence of some kind.

On March 15, 2019, a terrorist was able to live-stream their mass murder of 51 people in the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. It has been reported that, in the first 24 hours after the Christchurch attack, Facebook had to remove the terrorist content more than 1.5 million times as it went viral on the platform. In May, Facebook announced that it would be taking steps to mitigate against those videos being streamed on Facebook Live and working to find ways to take them down once they are posted.

While this is an important step, it does not address the inclusion of FTOs on social media platforms, including those with official accounts. In particular, Hamas and Hezbollah both have large presences on social media platforms. Recent reporting by the New York Times illustrated the far reach of these groups on social media.

Hezbollah shares the bulk of their postings through Al Manar, a pro-Hezbollah broadcaster. Al Manar has an active Twitter feed with 481,000 followers. A New York Times search on YouTube for Al Manar yielded more than 37,000 results, much of them propaganda speeches by Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

Hamas has an active English language Twitter account, with more than 72,000 followers. Al Aqsa, Hamas’ television station also has a Twitter account and a Facebook page. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, also features thousands of propaganda images and videos promoting Hamas.

Given the wide reach that FTOs have been allowed to have on your platforms, we kindly request the following information:

  1. The number of State Department-identified FTOs that have active accounts on your platforms;
  2. The number of affiliate groups for each FTO that post propaganda content on behalf of the FTO;
  3. A detailed plan and timeline for how to remove FTO content and accounts as well as propaganda accounts that further spread terrorist content;
  4. Any policies or procedures in consideration to permanently ban FTO content and accounts from each of your platforms;
  5. In November 2018, Facebook announced that it removed a total of 12.4 million pieces of terrorist content from their platform, including from ISIS and al-Qaeda. How do your platforms determine which FTO content to remove in comparison to content from groups like Hamas and Hezbollah which remains active?

We appreciate your prompt attention to these items and look forward to receiving your responses.

Sincerely,

Josh Gottheimer

MEMBER OF CONGRESS

Tom Reed

MEMBER OF CONGRES

Brian Fitzpatrick

MEMBER OF CONGRES

###

f t # e