People check mobile devices while standing against an illuminated wall bearing Twitter's logo.
Photograph by Bloomberg — Getty Images
By Jeff John Roberts
August 18, 2016

The social media service Twitter, which has frequently come under fire over the use of its platform by terrorists, announced on Thursday it has dramatically escalated the rate at which it suspends accounts.

In a blog post, Twitter (TWTR) said it continues to shut hundreds of thousands of accounts for violating the company’s policies on violent extremism. The report says the company has shuttered 235,000 accounts since February, and raised its daily suspension rate by 80% since last year.

Twitter also said its response time to shut down new accounts has improved, and that the number of followers they accumulate is decreasing dramatically.

The move comes as part of Twitter’s effort to quell criticism that it fails to do enough to halt terrorism. Such criticism peaked in 2015, when the director of the FBI called out the company specifically, saying Twitter was helping the Islamic State by serving as a “devil on their shoulder” of its followers. Members of Congress, especially Republicans, have also questioned whether Twitter is doing enough to fight ISIS.

Meanwhile, Twitter and other social media companies have been hit by civil lawsuits from relatives of ISIS victims that accuse them of facilitating terrorism. (Those suits have so far failed to get traction).

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For Twitter, which has long branded itself as a leading advocate of free speech, the controversy over terrorism poses a dilemma over when and how to censor users. But even with the more aggressive approach, the company cautioned there are technological limits to what it can do.

“As we mentioned in February, and other companies and experts have also noted, there is no one “magic algorithm” for identifying terrorist content on the Internet. But we continue to utilize other forms of technology, like proprietary spam-fighting tools, to supplement reports from our users and help identify repeat account abuse,” said the blog post.

But Twitter also pointed to evidence in the media that its efforts are hampering ISIS’s influence on the platform:

Overall, the company says it has shut down 360,000 terrorist-related accounts since last year.

The terrorism issue is just one policy problem for Twitter. The service is also struggling with how to control trolls, who continue to drive some celebrities to leave the service.

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