Europol has put together a new task force to shut down social media accounts associated with ISIS, the BBC reports. It's a tough task -- in fact, shutting ISIS' social media presence down completely may be next to impossible.
The new program is administered by European Police, and the hope is that officials can work with a list of unnamed social media companies to stem the flow of people from Europe to ISIS controlled lands. According to the report, some 5,000 EU citizen have travelled to ISIS territory.
It's been long reported that social media, and Twitter in particular, is a crucial tool for ISIS recruitment. But dealing with the problem can be difficult for practical and philosophical reasons. First of all, it's not easy to simply stamp out the entire ISIS social media presence. As the BBC points out, a study suggests there might be as many as 90,000 social media accounts associated with the Islamic State. It's just too much to go after at once. One of the key charges of the new Europol team will be figuring out which accounts are the most crucial -- and the most necessary to shut down.
Even if the right accounts do get shutdown, however, there's no practical way to ensure that a closed account isn't just replaced by another down the line. Though it's not exactly the same thing, it's worth pointing to Google's studies on blocking sites that host or point to pirated content. The effort to shut them down effectively turns into a never-ending game of whack-a-mole.
It could also create a dangerous precedent to shut down accounts for political reasons. For sure, ISIS is an evil organisation that should be opposed at all costs. In this case, it's clear cut -- we need to stop ISIS recruitment -- but there's no telling what the future holds after a concerted government effort to shut down social media accounts. In that context, it's worth noting that European countries tend to be a little more censorship happy than the United States.
Will it work? We'll have to wait and see.
Photo via AP