Help spread ISIS propaganda on Twitter or Facebook, and you could go to jail. That’s the message the Justice Department sent Monday, as a top official said he is willing to indict people who assist ISIS with its use and production of social media. The announcement raises questions about where the government would draw the line between support for a terrorist group and legally protected free speech.
Provocative tweets, Facebook posts, and grisly online beheading videos have all been key parts of ISIS’s recruitment and propaganda strategy, and one of the hardest elements of the terror group’s rise for U.S. national security agencies and technology companies to combat. And ISIS has attracted supporters online who, while they don’t participate in attacks or killings, endorse the group’s actions and proliferate its message. The Obama administration devoted much of last week to a summit on countering extremism—especially extremism online.
But John Carlin, the assistant attorney general for national security, told a cybersecurity conference in Washington on Monday that officials could try to blunt ISIS’s violent PR operation by essentially trying propagandists as terrorists. He suggested the Justice Department could bring prosecutions under the law against providing material support to a terrorist organization. His remarks were believed to be the first time a U.S. official has ever said that people who assist ISIS with online media could face criminal prosecution.