When most people think of “Instagram influencers,” they think of beauty bloggers, makeup gurus, and lifestyle queens who force their boyfriends to snap photos of them in outrageous outfits, standing in front of “interesting walls.” But according to a new study, radical Islamic terrorist organization ISIS has been moving from other social media networks onto the photo-driven Facebook subsidiary.
The Telegraph reports that ISIS or ISIL are “circumventing the platform’s security checks to post images and text celebrating the killings of ‘kafir,'” or “unbelievers,” bypassing Instagram’s airtight artificial intelligence system to share photos, mostly of beheadings and torture, and to threaten attacks.
Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, has recently begun taking extreme measures to empty the popular social network of “disturbing” and “questionable” content, even going so far as to boot a handful of political and social commentators that Facebook considers “controversial.” ISIS is subject to a lifetime ban from Facebook, and content relating to ISIS is removed as soon as it’s found.
As part of Facebook’s effort to make the social network a more welcoming place, they’ve also introduced AI controls on Instagram that scan uploaded photos and videos for undesirable content.
Those protections are supposed to prevent ISIS affiliates from being able to post photos of graphic violence and content that threatens mass terror attacks, but the Telegraph found “everything from images of the ISIS logo, dead soldiers and beheadings to photos of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself,” according to Fox News.
“The investigation exposes serious flaws in the ability of the social media giants to police their sites and prevent extremists exploiting them to promote their causes,” Telegraph reporter Charles Hymas says in the article revealing the paper’s findings.
“The investigation uncovered dozens of accounts daily on Instagram carrying images of terror attacks in Syria, threats to expand the jihad to the rest of the world, a beheading video, Isis fighters combat training, al Baghdadi speeches, posters extolling jihad and very young children in combat gear,” Hymas continued.
Instagram told Fox News in a statement that they police terrorist content aggressively and seemed surprised to learn that so much had slipped through the AI filter.
“We work aggressively to remove content or an account as soon as we become aware of it. We prioritize reports related to terrorism, and we have dedicated teams that work to stop the spread of terrorist content,” the platform said in a statement to Fox.
By the time the report went to print, the terrorist accounts the Telegraph found had all been deleted.
ISIS’s migration to Instagram and other, less well-policed social media networks is natural, considering that companies like Facebook and Twitter work hard to police their platforms of terrorist content, but it also reflects a change in how ISIS appeals to those sympathetic to its cause. As fewer young people sign up for Facebook and Twitter in favor of platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, terror recruiters will shift their focus as well.
They’re also moving to platforms less concerned with policing the content of users’ posts. Instead of WhatsApp and Facebook messenger, ISIS typically uses Telegram, a communications network that promises deep encryption for messages and “self-destructing” messages that don’t remain on the app’s messaging platform.