Steven Stalinsky is executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute.
In meetings with U.S. counterterrorism officials, on Capitol Hill and with journalists, I am asked repeatedly about how Twitter has become a driving force behind global jihad and what I think can be done about this. Is it possible to stop the Islamic State and other jihadi groups from using services such as Twitter and whether it is, essentially, a game of whack-a-mole? The answer is clear: A model for action already exists. Facebook has effectively stopped these groups from using its platform over the past few months.
For more than a decade, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has spent every day monitoring, translating and analyzing online activity by jihadi organizations. It has amassed one of the largest and most important archives in the world of translated jihadi texts since 9/11, serving Western governments, academia and the media, and informing the public. This undertaking includes collaboration between native speakers and researchers stationed across the globe, sharing observations and conclusions about the daily actions and emerging significant trends of these groups. On any given day, there are hundreds of important communications involving al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and other organizations’ activities on online forums and platforms including Twitter, YouTube, the Internet Archive, Tumblr and Instagram.
In September 2008, Facebook became another social media platform that jihadis were quick to embrace. Their forums were being shut down, and, as a result, the groups and community pages affiliated with leading jihadi Web sites found Facebook a suitable alternative. One jihadi wrote: “This [Facebook] is a great idea and better than the forums. Instead of waiting for people to [come to you so you can] inform them, you go to them and teach them!” Al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Somalia (al-Shabab), Syria (Jabhat al-Nusra), and Yemen (AQAP), the Taliban, the Islamic State and other designated terrorist groups, including Hezbollah and Hamas, all maintained a presence on Facebook.
These days, Facebook is much less prominent in the daily reports and summaries of research findings by MEMRI staff. This is not to say that jihadi activity no longer occurs but, rather, it has become insignificant. When a new jihadi account is created, Facebook quickly and permanently removes it. Facebook confronts Jihadis