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Twitter Account Suspensions Help in Curbing ISIS Rhetoric Online

George Washington University White Paper Finds Twitter Account Suspensions Reduce Reach of Return Offenders; ISIS-Affiliated Users Lost Massive Numbers of Followers

February 18, 2016
Emily Grebenstein: [email protected], 202-994-3087
Brett Zongker: [email protected], 202-994-6466
WASHINGTON (Feb. 18, 2016)—A new white paper from the Program on Extremism at the George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security found that Twitter’s consistent suspensions of ISIS-affiliated accounts reduced the number of repeat offenders, and accounts that returned did not regain the high number of followers they had originally. 
The white paper, “The Islamic State’s Diminishing Returns on Twitter,” written by J.M. Berger, fellow at the Program on Extremism, and Heather Perez, a law enforcement analyst, examined English-speaking ISIS supporters’ accounts for a 30-day period in August and September 2015 with additional samples measured at various times from June to October. 
The researchers found that individuals who repeatedly created accounts after being suspended suffered massive reductions in follower counts. Additionally, Mr. Berger and Ms. Perez found that suspensions diminished overall activity from these accounts and the broader network. 
“Suspensions have a measurable effect in suppressing the activity of ISIS networks on Twitter,” said Mr. Berger, co-author of the study. “Occasional large-scale suspensions, such as we saw after the Paris attacks, have dramatically reduced the size of ISIS’ presence on social media, and a lower level of routine suspensions hold the network flat in between these events.” 
Mr. Berger and Ms. Perez also found that ISIS supporters are exploring other social media platforms to communicate with one another, but ISIS supporters continue to emphasize the need to maintain a presence on Twitter since they are less effective recruiting on smaller or more restrictive platforms. ISIS supporters have also implemented other measures to combat suspensions, but many of these are rapidly rendered obsolete as companies take increasingly aggressive action. 
The white paper follows a December report from the Program on Extremism that offered the most extensive examination to date of Americans arrested for sympathizing with ISIS. According to the latest figures, there have been 81 arrest cases. Researchers found that the average age of charged individuals was 26, arrests occurred in 22 states and 40 percent of those charged had converted to Islam. The Program on Extremism also released more than 7,000 legal documents related to the arrests. 
Click here for infographics from the December 2015 report
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The Program on Extremism at the George Washington University’s Center on Cyber & Homeland Security provides analysis on issues related to violent and non-violent extremism. The program spearheads innovative and thoughtful academic inquiry, producing empirical work that strengthens extremism research as a distinct field of study. The program aims to develop pragmatic policy solutions that resonate with policymakers, civic leaders and the general public. To achieve these objectives, the program brings together a unique team of experts from various continents and a range of disciplines, including government officials with experience in public safety and law enforcement; scholars; former extremists; and counter-extremism practitioners providing firsthand assistance to families grappling with radicalization.