(New York, NY) – The Counter Extremism Project’s (CEP) new report, Spiders of the Caliphate: Mapping the Islamic State’s Global Support Network on Facebook, details how ISIS followers continue to exploit Facebook to host meetings, link to terrorist propaganda, and organize on the popular social media platform.
The report received coverage in VICE News. Following are excerpts:
- Facebook claims it has aggressively targeted terrorist content, eliminating 99 percent of terror-related messages before anyone even reports it. But the 90-page report from the Counter Extremism Project, entitled “Spiders of the Caliphate,” lays out the shortcomings in Facebook’s approach, and how ISIS supporters avoid detection by using Facebook Live to host meetings and linking to banned material in comments, tricks that avoid Facebook’s automated flagging tools. Even worse, the report shows how Facebook’s algorithmically-powered “recommended friends” feature is helping connect disparate groups of ISIS supporters across the globe.
- The researchers identified the accounts by trolling through Facebook for recently released ISIS propaganda using positive terminology, searching for geographic-based names, and examining pro-ISIS Facebook pages. They then searched the friends lists of the accounts they found to establish where networks were located and how they communicated with each other. And these accounts are representative of a much larger presence. The researchers told VICE News that they ignored hundreds of other accounts because they didn’t publicly disclose their location, so were omitted from this report. “We believe that the 1,000 accounts collected here represent only a small fraction of those on the site,” David Ibsen, executive director for the Counter Extremism Project told VICE News.
- Ibsen says that Facebook is simply not going enough to counteract the spread of Islamic State propaganda on its platform: “For all of this to exist on the site despite Facebook’s claims…indicates the massive scale in which IS supporters are active on the site.”
- The researchers claim Facebook’s unique ability to connect disparate groups of people is leading to the automation of connections between ISIS supporters, with the recommended friends automatically surfacing connections that may otherwise never happen. “The recommended friends feature must be reworked so that it does not actively connect ISIS supporters to each other or to users who are at risk of being radicalized and recruited,” Ibsen said.