Mike Isaac

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United Nations Report Cites Social Web as New Terror Propaganda Platform

Social networks and other modes of Internet communication are one of the new ways of spreading terrorist activity, according to a United Nations report titled “The Use of Internet For Terrorist Purposes,” published on Monday morning.

The report, first spotted by Bloomberg, specifically cites social networks Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as three platforms that can be used to reach a wider audience of potential new recruits, given the networks’ massive global user bases and broad communications distribution.

“Content that might formerly have been distributed to a relatively limited audience … has increasingly migrated to the Internet,” the report states. “Such content may be distributed using a broad range of tools, such as dedicated websites, targeted virtual chat rooms and forums, online magazines, social networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, and popular video and file-sharing websites, such as YouTube and Rapidshare, respectively.”

Among other things, the report claims that information regarding terrorist activity was previously more difficult to spread, mostly relegated to physical media such as CD-ROMs and DVDs. Social networks, then, make it easier for terrorist organizations to push out digital recruiting materials and propaganda to potential sympathizers.

Which, to be fair, is sort of obvious. As we come of age in an Internet society, new forms of mass communication and information distribution are being created on a near-daily basis. The entire point of Twitter, for instance, is to tap into a global conversation, while Facebook aims to connect people, and encourages them to share more information.

The report also points out that search engines make it easier to find terrorist content, while message boards and Internet forums make it possible to relay messages back and forth online. So, in a nutshell, the U.N. is saying that, with the help of the Internet, it’s easier to find terrorist content if you’re looking for it.

“As the U.N. report points out very clearly, this is an issue for every kind of platform of communication in a digital age — from cellphones and social networks to search engines and video-sharing services,” a Facebook spokesperson told AllThingsD.

It’s also worth noting that both Facebook and YouTube have protocols in place for flagging objectionable materials, including terrorist propaganda and hate speech.

So says a Facebook spokesperson: “Our policies very clearly prohibit praise, support or representation of terrorism, terrorist groups and individuals, and acts of terrorism. There is no place on Facebook for people who promote violence, and we devote significant resources to prevent even the rare instances when people do try to misuse our service.”

Twitter and Google did not respond to requests for comment.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald