As part of its research, the MEMRI Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor follows the multiple ways in which jihadi groups are using Twitter – “tweeting” news flashes, reporting attacks, battles, and other operational activities, and sharing videos, and more.
Jihadi groups’ use of Twitter is part of their online media strategy of taking advantage of Western websites and technologies, uploading videos to YouTube and to the Internet Archive, creating official Facebook pages, and other methods. Jihadis have come to depend on free web hosting, where content can be uploaded anonymously, reliably, and at no cost.
Headquartered in San Francisco, California and with servers in San Antonio, Texas, Boston, Massachusetts, and New York, Twitter is increasingly being used by terrorist organizations and their media outlets. Their online followers are growing in number.
Twitter’s Terms of Services Supposedly Ban Users “Barred From Receiving Services Under the Laws of the United States” – Yet Growing Number of Designated Terrorist Organizations Are Tweeting
The latest designated terrorist organization active on twitter is Hizbullah (http://twitter.com/#1/almanarnews). Other jihadi organizations include the Somali Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahedeen, the Taliban, Jihad Al-Ansar Media, Nukhbat Al-I’lam Al-Jihadi, Ribat Media Center, and many more, on which MEMRI will be reporting soon.
According to Twitter’s Terms of Service, account holders may use the Services only if “you [the user] can form a binding contract with Twitter and are not a person barred from receiving services under the laws of the United States or other applicable jurisdiction.”  Its “Restrictions on Content” states “We reserve the right at all times (but will not have an obligation) to remove or refuse to distribute any Content on the Services and to terminate users or reclaim usernames… We also reserve the right to… enforce the Terms, including investigation of potential violations hereof.” Twitter also provides readers with the option to report violations.
Jihadis’ use of Twitter should not be dismissed. The terrorist organizations mentioned above, and an ever-growing cadre of online jihadi groups and bloggers supportive of Al-Qaeda, are tweeting 24/7. In fact, according to recent research on Twitter users, Arabic is now the fastest-growing language on the site; the number of Arabic-language tweets is 22 times greater than it was a year ago.
Is Twitter Breaking the Law? The U.S. Government’s Emerging Policy
Over the past month – as it has been reported that terror organizations, including the Taliban and the Somali Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahedeen, have been tweeting – there is increasing pressure on Twitter to act. A December 18, 2011 Washington Post report revealed that “U.S. officials have grown increasingly concerned about extremists’ stepped-up activity on social media sites, citing cases in which Americans have been recruited online by terrorists overseas.”
Subsequently, the Los Angeles Times reported, on November 23, 2011, that after some Congressmen urged Twitter to stop hosting pro-Taliban tweets, Twitter executives told lawmakers that the micro-posts do not violate the website’s terms of service because the Taliban is not listed by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization. Such a designation would make it illegal to provide ‘material support or resources’ to the group. On this occasion too, “Twitter officials did not respond to requests for comment.”
When it was discovered that Al-Shabaab – which was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the U.S. State Department in 2008 – had launched a Twitter account and begun tweeting on December 7, 2011, questions arose regarding whether the government – or Twitter – would take action. A State Department spokesman said, “We are looking closely at the facts of this situation to determine what the appropriate next steps might be.” According to a December 20, 2011 New York Times report, “some American officials said the government was exploring legal options to shut down the Shabaab’s new Twitter account, potentially opening a debate over the line between free speech and support for terrorism… American officials said they were worried that the Shabaab might be using Twitter to reach potential recruits in the West.”
Again, just as Twitter refused to comment to The Washington Times and the Los Angeles Times, company spokesman Matt Graves told The New York Times on December 19, 2011, “I appreciate your offer for Twitter to provide perspective for the story, but we are declining comment on this one.”
Hizbullah and Al-Manar TV: Another State Department-Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations Using Twitter
The Lebanese-based Hizbullah terrorist organization has killed more Americans than any other terrorist organization except for Al-Qaeda; most recently, Hizbullah made headlines on December 16, 2011, when Ali Musa Daqduq, a Hizbullah commander, was handed over from U.S. custody to the Iraqi government.
In January 2007, Daqduq orchestrated a raid on American troops, in which Shi’ite militants, in American-style uniforms and carrying forged identity cards, killed five American soldiers in Karbala. One soldier was killed in the raid, and four others were kidnapped and their bodies were later found dumped by a roadside.
The U.S. State Department designated Hizbullah a Foreign Terrorist Organization on October 11, 2005. The group was previously designated an FTO in 1999, but the designation was rescinded in 2001 after it denounced the 9/11 attacks. Hizbullah’s Al-Manar TV was designated a terrorist entity in December 2004 by the U.S. State Department. In 2006, Al-Manar was named a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity by the U.S., which declared that it was “owned or controlled by the Iran-funded Hizbullah terrorist network.”
On March 23, 2006, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that pursuant to Executive Order 13224, Al-Manar was designated a global terrorist entity. The announcement cited earlier U.S. laws against Al-Manar which it called “the media arm of Hizbullah.”
In response to the U.S. designation, Al-Manar vowed to continue broadcasting even though its assets were now frozen by the U.S. government. A spokesman insisted that there was “nothing new” and added, “It doesn’t change anything, and we will continue our work and will remain broadcasting everywhere in the world, including the U.S.”
Hizbullah’s Al-Manar Twitter Activity – In Three Languages
Hizbullah’s PR efforts can be described as sophisticated. The organization maintains a radio channel, Al-Nour. Another – and most important – front in Hizbullah’s PR efforts is Al-Manar TV and its website, which is the center of conveying Hizbullah’s activities to the world. The server that hosts the site, www.almanar.com.lb/, is located in London, and the company that owns the IP address to the site, Coreix.net, is Coreix Limited, registered at Third Floor, Refuge House, 9-10 River Front, Enfield, EN1 3SZ, telephone +44 207 183 1725. The website has Arabic, English, French, and Spanish versions.
On November 16, 2011, Hizbullah began tweeting. In the 35 days since it launched its Twitter account, Hizbullah has posted 15,254 tweets – that is, over 400 tweets per day – and has 7,339 followers. The tweets are in Arabic, French, and English. They use Twitter tools including ‘Add This,’ which bills itself as “the world’s largest sharing and social insights platform. AddThis helps you integrate sharing tools into your site, spread your content, and drive social traffic. In-depth analytics provide insight into your audience and their activity.”
For the most part, Al-Manar tweets included statements by Hizbullah officials as well as news stories from the Middle East. This past week, Al-Manar focused on following speeches by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; news about the Iranian government and military leaders; statements by Hamas; news from the U.S. Congress; and news about attacks on the U.S. military and NATO. It also tweeted news items regarding CIA-reported spying efforts on Hizbullah in Lebanon. Most of the tweets link back to Al-Manar’s website.
Read it all, and like technology bigs Google, Youtube, and Facebook – don’t expect Twitter to uphold their own terms of service or for politicians to ask law enforcement to uphold the laws they write. The DOD even exchanges tweets with the enemy rather than killing them.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and numerous jihadi forums are all very active as are the stealth jihadists who support all these groups (CAIR, ISNA, ICNA, etc.). And as we’ve shown before, they all work together.