The good news: An initial deluge of explicit porn featuring Sonic the Hedgehog is gone.
The bad news: It’s been replaced by ISIS propaganda.
Such are the travails of Gettr, the pro-Trump, anti-censorship Twitter clone launched by former Trump spokesperson Jason Miller last month.
An investigation by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank that tracks extremism online, found Islamic State supporters are using the nascent social network to distribute graphic videos and other terrorist propaganda, putting Gettr’s commitment to free speech ― and its moderation system ― to the test.
The jihadi accounts were first flagged by Moustafa Ayad, the organization’s executive director for Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Ayad told HuffPost that ISIS supporters used Facebook to coordinate a “raid and occupy” campaign targeting Gettr on July 6, with the first batch of 20 accounts coming online within 24 hours later.
Those 20 accounts pushed around 300 pieces of propaganda on Gettr within the first week and then “spawned exponentially” to circumvent moderation efforts. They’ve since grown to at least 250 active accounts disseminating content that includes calls for violence and beheading videos, a Politico tally found.
ISIS supporters have put forth a concentrated effort in the past few months to “seed and grow” communities of support, Ayad said. The targeting of conservative and far-right platforms is a deliberate tactic: Compared to Facebook, these platforms often have limited resources to combat the problem, and by simply having a presence there, the Islamic State can claim a media win by “owning” a conservative space.
Screengrabs of the jihadi content the Institute for Strategic Dialogue shared with HuffPost show that the earliest posts, while problematic, had minimal interaction. Other disturbing content, like white supremacist propaganda, likely has a far greater reach, said Emerson Brooking, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, which studies disinformation online.
“Because of the way Gettr is constructed, it is difficult to quantify how popular a subject is,” Brooking told HuffPost in an email. “In my examination of the platform, however, I found these ISIS fan accounts to have a relatively small reach. Some of these accounts seem to have been manually removed by Gettr after they were flagged by reporters and researchers.”
“On the other hand, it takes only seconds to find content promoting the 2019 white-supremacist terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, which saw the murder of 51 Muslim congregants. The same goes for content related to the ‘Great Replacement’ and other white-supremacist propaganda that has fueled terror attacks around the world.”
Posting on Gettr Monday, Miller called Politico’s tally of the ISIS fan accounts “misleading and inflammatory” yet neglected to explain how it was inaccurate. He also boasted about Gettr’s “robust and proactive moderation system that removes prohibited content, maximizing both cutting-edge A.I. technology and human moderation.”
Facebook, Twitter and all manner of smaller networks have long struggled to effectively moderate their platforms. While the larger companies employ rigorous artificial intelligence screening and thousands of third-party human moderators ― with imperfect results ― start-ups have even fewer resources at their disposal.
“The networks of ISIS supporters we track across large, small and niche platforms are all in some shape or form interconnected. They ‘move fast and break things,’” Ayad said, referencing Facebook’s infamous early motto.
Gettr’s ISIS troubles follow the aforementioned run-in with furry porn, a widespread hack that exposed the data of more than 90,000 users, another hack that defaced the accounts of some high-profile users, an early tangle with high-profile neo-Nazis, inadvertently making its source code available, and an international funding controversy. All in the last month.