WASHINGTON/NEW YORK – Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, plans to deny Hamas “virtual territory” should she win the election in November, a senior campaign official told The Jerusalem Post this weekend.
Last week, the Hamas leadership immediately praised the shooting rampage at the Sarona Market in Tel Aviv on social media. Ismail Haniyeh, the top Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, has maintained a Twitter account since March 2012 and has 314,000 followers. Khaled Mashaal, the group’s chief, has had an account active since last May, now with 45,800 followers. The main Hamas Twitter page, active since October 2010, has 239,000 followers.
Israeli security experts told the Post
last week that little had been done to deny terrorist organizations these platforms, despite concern by Western law enforcement agencies – as well as among the very organizations that host them, in particular Twitter and Facebook – over the effect these messages have in stoking violence around the world, from Israel to the United States.
Clinton campaign officials said that the candidate’s strategy to deny terrorist organizations the ability to recruit online “would apply to all terrorist propaganda, including that of Hamas.”
Speaking at a forum in Washington in December, Clinton said that the US must "stop jihadists from radicalizing new recruits in-person and through social media, chat rooms, and what’s called the 'Dark Web.' To do that, we need stronger relationships between Washington, Silicon Valley, and all of our great tech companies and entrepreneurs."
"We recruited specialists fluent in Arabic, Urdu, and Somali to wage online battles with extremists to counter their propaganda," she continued. "Now, those efforts have not kept pace with the threat, so we need to step up our game, in partnership with the private sector and credible moderate voices outside government."
Twitter has repeatedly stated that its policy is to deny these organizations any space to operate. “We condemn the use of Twitter to promote terrorism and the Twitter Rules make it clear that this type of behavior, or any violent threat, is not permitted on our service,” the company says on its website.
But making note of Haniyeh’s massive Twitter following, Congressman Peter Roskam (R-Illinois) urged the company to step up its game.
“I acknowledge and applaud Twitter’s active effort to identify and suspend social media accounts linked to Hamas and other terrorist groups. I urge them to continue this policy and work closely with relevant officials to prevent terrorist groups from using social media platforms to spread their heinous ideologies.”
Haniyeh “falls within this category,” Roskam said, “and should have his account suspended immediately.”
Congressman Ted Deutch (D-Florida) called Hamas’ use of social media to celebrate the Tel Aviv attack “disgusting.”
“Unfortunately, we have seen terrorist groups use social media to spread hateful propaganda, to recruit members, and to incite violence with alarming effectiveness,” Deutch said.
“Social media companies must work closely with the US government to ensure their platforms are not being used by terrorist organizations to do harm to our country.”
Campaign aides of Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, declined to comment for this report. In recent weeks, the candidate has condemned terrorist organization access to social media platforms, and his statement on the Tel Aviv attack last week characterized Hamas’s tweets in response as “despicable!” Jewish leaders are also expressing concern over the perceived lack of action against terrorists’ use of social media.
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt told the Post
that his organization has been tracking Hamas accounts on Twitter and other social media platforms for “many years.”
“As part of our close relationship with social media companies, we often alert Twitter and others to Hamas content and notify them when their services are being exploited by terrorist organizations,” he said.
While some platforms have removed Hamas-run accounts following ADL’s warnings in the past, the terrorist group continues to actively seek out engagement opportunities on these platforms.
“Twitter and other platforms often decide to allow certain content to remain on their platform,” Greenblatt told the Post
. “While we don’t always agree with those decisions, we will continue to alert Twitter and others to terrorist content on their platforms and encourage them to take action.”
The ADL is one of the inaugural members of the Twitter Trust & Safety Council, established in February in order to combat “behavior intended to harass, intimidate, or use fear to silence another user’s voice,” according to the social media site.
The league has also put together a list of best practices for countering online hate. The guidelines have been endorsed by the leading social media platforms, including Twitter.
American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris added that Twitter clearly has “much urgent work to do in devising technical means of blocking terrorists from exploiting this ubiquitous platform.”
“Twitter is a product of democracy,” he told the Post
. “It should not amplify the voices of those who would violently extinguish democratic freedoms using it as a weapon in their arsenal. A social media platform, like the [US] Constitution, is not a suicide pact.”
Niv Elis contributed to this report.