IS jihadists dodge security checks to bombard Instagram
Images of beheadings to promote jihad a sign that social media giants struggle to curb extremist material
Islamic State extremists are using Instagram to promote jihad and incite support for terror attacks on the West, an investigation by this publication has found.
They are circumventing the platform’s security checks to post images and text celebrating the killings of “kafir” (unbelievers) accompanied by images of dead soldiers and beheadings, as well as threatening terrorist atrocities on the scale of the Sri Lankan suicide bombings that claimed 253 lives.
Some posts brazenly use IS’s logo or images of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and urge followers to join jihad.
The investigation exposes serious flaws in the ability of social media giants to prevent extremists exploiting them to promote their causes.
It also found live-streamed footage of white supremacist Brenton Tarrant’s attack on mosques in New Zealand was still up on Facebook’s site two months after the atrocity in which 51 people, including children, were fatally shot. After we alerted them to the posts, Instagram and Facebook removed the accounts and video, insisting they would not tolerate terrorism on their sites.
However, UK security minister Ben Wallace said the investigation showed the firms were failing to do enough to block extremism that could radicalise others. “It’s vital tech companies do more to ensure their platforms are not used for these purposes,” he said.
Yvette Cooper, chairman of the home affairs select committee, said the discovery was “an utter disgrace”. “We have challenged the companies many times on the way their money-making algorithms are promoting extremism – these companies are profiting from pushing poison.”The posts were uncovered by Eric Feinberg, of the Global Intellectual Property Enforcement Centre, who has developed technology that can detect communications and euphemisms of terrorists in Arabic and other languages and thus trace material missed by the platforms. He is now being followed by IS supporters and, in a twist, Instagram’s algorithms have started recommending to him IS sympathisers to follow.Feinberg said: “This material is designed to incite, radicalise and recruit (IS) sympathisers and lone wolves. All it takes is one person to be inspired by this and people could die as a result.”The investigation uncovered dozens of accounts daily on Instagram carrying images, videos and speeches. One headlined “Choosing the next target, no method is off limits” points to previous attacks, with a red question mark over: “Who is the next ... ” Two dead PKK soldiers on the Turkish-Syrian border were accompanied by script praising the killing of “two kafirs” by “soldiers of the caliphate”.Some of the most shocking images showed an under one-year-old in a baby walker below IS iconography and a child in combat fatigues preparing to behead a prisoner.Instagram said it worked “aggressively to remove content or an account as soon as we become aware of it”.Facebook said the way the New Zealand video had been edited from the live-streamed version had prevented it from being detected until now. “There’s no place for this type of content on our platforms,” it added.Feinberg, however, claims his evidence shows such statements are hollow.Over 60 days in December and January, he identified 900 separate IS accounts on Facebook – 15 a day – which he presented to the company. It is understood all were removed. He said he had offered his technology to the platforms but they had rejected it.
Damian Collins, chairman of the Commons culture committee, said the posts would be a prime target for investigation by the government’s proposed new regulator.• Nick Clegg has hit back at calls for Facebook to be broken up, claiming critics should focus on “getting the rules of the internet right” and not “dismantling” successful companies.In an op-ed for The New York Times, the former UK deputy prime minister and Facebook’s head of global affairs responded directly to Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, who took aim at the company earlier this week. Clegg said: “Facebook shouldn’t be broken up – but it does need to be held to account.”– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)