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Terrorist organizations have adopted social media as a tool for spreading propaganda and recruiting new members. Social media allow terrorist groups to interact with an audience and spread their message to a broader base. Legal scholars warn that as social media networks become the modern space for public discourse, they must be careful about publishing certain content because they could come under legal scrutiny for materially supporting terrorist organizations.
The recent video showing American photojournalist James Foley beheaded by a member of the Islamic State underscore how social media Web sites are in the crossfire between granting freedom of expression and facilitating terrorist propaganda, according to Homeland Security Wire.
The four-minute, forty-second video of Foley has been shared and viewed by millions of online viewers, and while counterterrorism officials have reached out to social media networks asking them to censor the video, a quick search on Google will offer multiple sites where the video can be viewed in full. “YouTube has clear policies that prohibit content like gratuitous violence, hate speech and incitement to commit violent acts,” a YouTube spokesperson said.
Even when accounts are shut down, terror groups quickly repost their content onto other social media networks. The Los Angeles Times reports that Facebook has ordered its teams around the world to remove certain posts relating to Foley’s beheading, but in some cases, such as when a user posts a condemnation of the beheading alongside an edited version of the video that omits the beheading, Facebook has allowed the posts to remain.