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Why Hasn't Twitter Stopped Terrorists From Using Its Service?

"Make it easier for them to communicate and recruit more members."

Screen grab from Twitter.com

As the world watched Twitter's stock market debut Thursday, high-level terrorists in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan and North Africa continued using the social networking site to communicate with their fighters.

Image source: Twitter

Sites like Facebook, Instagram, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter have inadvertently become tools for terror groups to plan attacks, hold meetings and recruit new members. Western counterterrorism officials have been tracking social media use by terrorist organizations, seeing an uptick in the past several years as the organizations have become more tech- and media-savvy.

Many times, social media sites will remove such accounts under pressure or protest from law enforcement monitoring terrorist activity on the web. Twitter, however, has refused to remove a number of terror group accounts from its service. Syrian Al Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusrah, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban and other organizations designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department currently use Twitter accounts to communicate with their members.

TheBlaze, which has seen the accounts held by these terrorist organizations on Twitter, has chosen not to publicize them.

Steve Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute, a nonprofit group that translates reports and media from the Middle East, said Twitter isn't following its own policies.

"This hasn’t really stopped Twitter from stopping many of the world's major terrorist groups from tweeting," Stalinsky told TheBlaze. "Until January 2013, Twitter had taken no steps towards implementing its own regulations, refraining completely from addressing the issue of jihadis' and terrorists' use of its service, but since then has decided to close a handful of accounts including the Somali Al Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab after exposure by the media."

A Twitter spokesperson said they "do not comment on individual accounts, for privacy and security purposes."

Twitter's terms of service state that no "person barred from receiving services under the laws of the U.S." may hold a Twitter account, and users "may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others."

Twitter did remove Al Qaeda Somalia offshoot Al-Shabaab, which launched September's deadly attack on the Westgate mall in Kenya, after media reports revealed they were using Twitter to communicate.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said while law enforcement work to monitor online terror accounts, "Twitter and other social media sites make it easier for them to communicate and recruit more members."

"I don't think in this day and age we're going to completely stop these groups from using these social media sites but the companies should certainly pull them off when they are discovered," the official said, speaking on the condition that they not be named due to the nature of their work.

Stalinsky said Twitter "needs to make public what its official policy is and let it be known why it would decide to shut down one account such as Al-Shabaab, while continuing to allow another such as Al-Nusra to use its platform."

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