Governments and Silicon Valley leaders are going crazy about fighting ISIS online, and the panic has even recently led people who are usually pretty smart to give up on free speech. Twitter proved today there's even collateral damage on the web's fight against radicalism, when it suspended the account of Arab Spring activist Iyad El-Baghdadi in a display of stupidity not seen since CNN mistook a flag filled with dildos for Arabic script.
It all started when The New York Post made a libelous error in identifying El-Baghdadi as the leader of ISIS in an incoherent NFL-themed news roundup. The mistake was somehow followed by Twitter suspending El-Baghdadi's account, keeping him away from his more than 70,000 followers. "To confuse an Arab man for the IS leader because of his very Arabic common surname is overt racism, Twitter," El-Baghdadi tweeted after his account was restored.
The mistake was rectified, but it does not inspire confidence in Twitter's ability to fight ISIS propaganda — especially considering it has been under mounting pressure from officials in France and the United States in recent months to do more. Even US presidential candidates have basically said they expect major technology companies to deal with the country's enemies, even as they admit they don't know how the technology they create works. If Twitter and others are going to fight extremism online, they should start with some basic fact checking.