Facebook has auto-created the pages of designated terrorist organizations including ISIS and al-Qaeda for years, according to a new report.
The Tech Transparency Project (TTP) investigation comes less than a week before the Supreme Court hears a landmark case, which examines the responsibility of tech companies for policing terrorism online, and shows how the presence of terror groups continues to linger on Facebook despite years of pressure to remove that content.
In the years since the rise of ISIS, the company has taken measures to try and stem the problem of extremism on its platform. But TTP, a tech industry watchdog group, found that a tech “quirk” on Facebook unknowingly auto-generated landing pages for terror organizations when users list them under things like their work, education, local businesses, interests, or even locations—and no page already exists for it.
The outcome was a host of pages (mostly in Arabic, but several in English) featuring posts with images of the jihadist black standard, some with masked men in terrorist garb holding weapons, an al-Qaeda landing spot with an “About” section, and even listing ISIS pages as a “country/region… state”—something the terror group claimed it was after declaring itself as a pseudo-state when it controlled a swath of land between Iraq and Syria.
According to the report, some of the auto-generated pages enabled users to network, tag friends and message each other, with some accruing thousands of likes. (Facebook did provide small directions on the pages labeling them as an “unofficial Page.”)
TTP provided a list of active Facebook links to several of the pages referenced in the report for verification. While TTP finds that the majority of the ISIS pages were generated in the period of 2014 and 2015, four of the pages were created as late as October 2022 and the capability to create more still exists.
VICE News put the page generation to the test and was also able to review a screen-capture video of a user creating a profile from this month where they listed their job as an ISIS terrorist and were still given several options under the banner of the terrorist organization. An additional video that was reviewed, shows the same Facebook user changing their employer to “دوله السلامية” (ISIS in Arabic), located it in Raqqa, Syria (once a stronghold of the terror group where atrocities were carried out), and Facebook then automatically generating a page for the “Company.”
Facebook has maintained for years that it scours for and openly bans content from these sorts of groups. The app came under fire in 2014 when ISIS numbers exploded and the app was seen as key to the terrorist group’s recruitment and propaganda tactics. Initially a major vector for ISIS, Facebook relied on large-scale online operations targeting all digital spaces inhabited by millennials, including widely used platforms such as Instagram and Twitter. was doing.
But now, with encrypted platforms such as Telegram taking over this role, Facebook is no longer the primary social media for terrorist organizations.
Meta, which owns Facebook (and Instagram), said it had no further comment because TTP had not previously provided a report. Facebook’s watchdog was not questioned about the report, according to the TTP. “When this kind of shell page is automatically generated, it has no owner or admin and has limited activity,” the spokesperson said. “As we announced at the end of last year, we are addressing an issue where shell pages were auto-generated and will continue to investigate.”
However, TTP claims Facebook has not taken the issue seriously, even after being notified several times.
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