Scandal-plagued social media giant Facebook is under fire over accusations it helps create jihadist terror networks around the world.
Researchers at the non-profit organisation Counter Extremism Project analysed the social media data of 1000 known Islamic State terrorist supporters in 96 countries, the London Daily Telegraph reports.
The research found users who sympathised with the terror group were able to use Facebook as an introduction service and find one another through the popular “suggested friends” feature.
In one example, an Indonesian Islamic State supporter sent a friend request to another user in New York in March 2017. The American user explained that he was not religious, but had an interest in Islam.
“Over the following weeks and months the Indonesian user began sending increasingly radical messages and links including pro-IS propaganda, all of which were liked by his target,” the paper said. The American user became an Islamic State supporter within six months.
Using sophisticated algorithms, Facebook is designed to draw together people via their common interests.
The site automatically collects a vast amount of personal information about its users, which is then used to target advertisements and also direct people towards others on the network they might wish to connect with. However without any supervision or intervention, terror networks like Islamic State are able to exploit Facebook to expand their global network of sympathisers.
Gregory Waters, one of the authors of the report, told the Telegraph he was bombarded by suggestions for pro-Islamic State friends, after making contact with one active extremist on the site.
Fellow researcher, Robert Postings, clicked on several non-extremist news pages about an Islamist uprising in the Philippines and reports that within hours he had been inundated with friend suggestions for dozens of extremists based in that region.
Mr Postings said: “Facebook, in their desire to connect as many people as possible have inadvertently created a system which helps connect extremists and terrorists.”
The study also examined the extent to which Facebook was failing to tackle terrorist material on its site.
Of the 1,000 Islamic State supporting profiles examined by researchers, less than half of the accounts had been suspended by Facebook six months later.
A spokesman for Facebook said: “There is no place for terrorists on Facebook. We work aggressively to ensure that we do not have terrorists or terror groups using the site, and we also remove any content that praises or supports terrorism.
“Our approach is working – 99 per cent of ISIS and Al Qaeda-related content we remove is found by our automated systems. But there is no easy technical fix to fight online extremism.
“We have and will continue to invest millions of pounds in both people and technology to identify and remove terrorist content.”
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