*This story has been updated to note that all the sites included in a list of “official Islamic State accounts” have now been suspended by VKontakte
by, Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai | Mashable
The Islamic State may soon be running out of social networks.
When Twitter ramped up its crackdown on several accounts in the wake of the brutal beheading of James Foley, the militants were forced to move on to different social networks like Diaspora and VKontakte (or VK), the Russian equivalent of Facebook, looking for more permissive digital pastures.
But VKontakte, which boasts of 260 million users, has also started to crack down on accounts related to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL).
“We are shutting down all communities and personal accounts that promote ISIS and have been found by our moderators or reported by users,” George Lobushkin, VKontakte’s spokesperson, told Mashable.
Experts who track Jihadists online confirmed that the crackdown has indeed started. “They have just suspended two of their top accounts,” Laith Alkhouri, a researcher with Flashpoint Partners, told Mashable.
J.M. Berger, who writes the influential Intelwire report also confirmed that two popular pages, named “al Hayat” and “Ajnad” — ISIS used both accounts for propaganda and recruiting — had been suspended.
Until Thursday, however, experts were critical of VKontakte’s leniency with ISIS accounts.
“VKontakte is their safe haven for now,” said Pieter Van Ostaeyen, a researcher who’s been tracking ISIS fighters and supporters on the Internet for months. “The main fact for these guys to move there is because they don’t get kicked off all the time.”
In the last three months, as ISIS fighters have carved a bloody path through Syria and Iraq, the group has shown an unprecedented ability among Jihadist groups to use social media to spread propaganda and recruit new fighters. But as large social networks like Facebook and Twitter crack down on their accounts, they have been forced to move to smaller networks with a more limited reach, but also more freedom to operate.
Even after the suspension of “al Hayat” and “Ajnad,” Alkhouri told Mashable that VKontakte is “not doing enough.”
On Thursday morning, Van Ostayen also pointed to a list of VKontakte profiles circulated on Twitter in the last week, titled “The Official Accounts of the Islamic State.”
Of the 16 links on the list, nine were still active at the time this article was written. And four of the ones that are now suspended were still active on Thursday, according to an analysis conducted by Mashable with the help of Dlshad Othman, a Syrian hacker and technologist who now lives in D.C. (After this story was published, VKontakte blocked all the links in the list.)
Vkontakte’s seemd to ramp up its crackdown on the same day a Russian news site Apparat published an investigation into Islamic State activities on VKontakte, revealing that the militants were widely recruiting and fundraising on the site, which Apparat defines as “free” and “comfortable” for the militants.
But VKontakte’s spokesperson Lobushkin rejected the idea that they’ve been too slow in their crackdown. He said the first account of the 62 was blocked on Aug. 7, but he also said that in the last two days, they shut down “about 20.”
For Alkhouri, compared to other social media companies, 62 “is a very small number” that dwarfs compared to others. Even after this fresh round of suspensions, “[VKontakte]‘s standards remain lackluster,” he said.
This story has been updated to note that all the sites included in a list of “official Islamic State accounts” have now been suspended by VKontakte.