Facebook 'allowed ISIS extremists to be introduced through suggested friends feature'

The social networking media giant has already been heavily criticised for failing to remove terrorist-related material from its platform.

It has now come under fire for allowing them to form new networks around the world, as well as recruit new members to their cause.

Researchers analysed the Facebook activities of 1,000 ISIS supporters in 96 countries and found that users with radical Islamist views were routinely introduced to each other via the Facebook feature, according to a report in The Sunday Telegraph.

The Facebook tool is meant to connect people who share common interests or highlight people also using the site who they may want to connect with.

But without substantial checks terrorists are able to exploit the site to communicate with other extremists and their supporters.

The research is due to be published later this month in a report by the Counter Extremism Project a non profit that has called on tech companies to do more to remove known extremist and terrorist material online.

A researcher on the report Robert Postings said: "Facebook, in their desire to connect as many people as possible have inadvertently created a system which helps connect extremists and terrorists.”

Once a connection has been made, and Facebook’s failure to successfully tackle extremist content means jihadists are able to radicalise vulnerable targets.

In one example uncovered by the researchers, an Indonesian ISIS supporter sent a friend request to a non-Muslim user in New York in March 2017.

 

During the initial exchange the American user said he was not religious, but had an interest in Islam.

Over the following weeks and months the Indonesian user began sending increasingly radical messages and links including pro-ISIS propaganda, all of which were liked by his target.

Mr Postings said: “Over a period of six months the [US based user] went from having no clear religion to becoming a radicalised Muslim supporting Isil.”

The study also examined the extent to which Facebook was failing to tackle terrorist material on its site.

Of the 1,000 ISIS supporting profiles examined by researchers, less than half of the accounts had been suspended by Facebook six months later.

Mr Postings said: "Removing profiles that disseminate IS propaganda, calls for attacks and otherwise support the group is important… the fact that the majority of pro-ISIS profiles in this database have gone unremoved by Facebook is exceptionally concerning."

Even when terrorist material was identified and the offending posts removed, the user was often allowed to remain on the site.

The report also highlighted numerous examples of pro-ISIS accounts being reinstated after the user complained to moderators about their suspension.

In one case a British terror suspect had his Facebook account reinstated nine times after complaining, despite being accused of having posted disturbing ISIS propaganda videos.

Gregory Waters, one of the authors of the report, said: "This project has laid bare Facebook's inability or unwillingness to efficiently address extremist content on their site.

"The failure to effectively police its platform has allowed Facebook to become a place where extensive IS supporting networks exist, propaganda is disseminated people are radicalised and new supporters are recruited."

A spokesman for Facebook said: "There is no place for terrorists on Facebook. We work aggressively to ensure that we do not have terrorists or terror groups using the site, and we also remove any content that praises or supports terrorism.

"Our approach is working – 99 per cent of ISIS and Al Qaeda-related content we remove is found by our automated systems. But there is no easy technical fix to fight online extremism.
"We have and will continue to invest millions of pounds in both people and technology to identify and remove terrorist content."



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