Removing the Microphone: Terrorists and Social Media

As a proud military spouse and marketing professional, it is upsetting to see how much free publicity ISIS getting by targeting military families and civilians worldwide. Their most recent attack involves targeting members of the military with a call to action to kill their families. While the battlefield continues to evolve, we must constantly reaffirm the principle that we will not let terrorists dictate how we live our lives. However, all of us, from individuals to institutions like Twitter and Facebook can take steps to protect those who have volunteered to fight in defense of freedom.

For most military families, social media is a lifeline to our friends and families back home. With frequent moves and relocations, our support network is limited, with friends and family scattered all over the country. The 2014 Blue Star Military Family Survey found that 75% of 6,200 respondents considered the use of social media to be very important, with Facebook and email being the prime tools to communicate. Military families can review OPSEC guidelines, and the 2015 Defense Media Activity Guide to help keep social media accounts secure.

When threats of violence occur, our first instinct might be to lock down all social media and go dark. Many recent quotes in the media offer rather defeatist attitudes, alluding that social media related attacks are inevitable. In my opinion, the challenge presented is more a race to technology. And for us to win, we need all the stakeholders at the table to innovate and collaborate on public safety issues. Terrorists seem to thrive on Twitter, and are able to get their message out and recruit new members with ease. So what can we do to stop this?

While death threats against military families require swift action, not all tech companies are readily prepared and trained to rapidly respond to national security issues. Social Media companies are not always transparent on how they report threats, so while I continue to self-moderate my own presence online, that is no guarantee for my family’s safety. I hope that our partners at Facebook (valued at $200 billion), Twitter (valued at $23 billion) and other tech leaders prioritize investment and development in safeguards, and innovate new ways to block, report and protect their consumers from violent threats in partnership with lawmakers and local authorities. Some states also need to enact meaningful legislation that gives authorities the right to prosecute threats of violence. Federal law allows for prosecuting someone who uses “any interactive computer service, or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce to engage in a course of conduct that causes substantial emotional distress to that person or places that person in reasonable fear of the death of, or serious bodily injury.” But only about half the states have updated their criminal law to allow for such prosecutions. Is it time to take terrorists and trolls to task over technology rights. If we can take away their microphone, we can take away their power.