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Retweeting terrorists could be, well, terrorism

The ubiquity of social media these days means that just about everyone and their mother can be found on one network or another, and this includes terrorists. Organizations like the Islamic State group, which have indeed taken advantage of social media to spread their messages and aid in recruitment efforts, are incredibly active on Twitter — so much so, that the tech company is now one of the FBI’s key informants in the fight against terrorism. With the wealth of information spread by online, even if only in 140-character bursts, the antiterrorism organization has found that certain Twitter activity could provide evidence and clues regarding support for illegal activities, and now, retweeting Islamic State group or other known terrorists could land you in prison.

As the Huffington Post originally reported, the FBI has, on occasion, “pointed to Twitter activity — including retweets — as probable cause for terrorism charges.” In one particular case, a 17-year-old admitted to providing “material support” when he tweeted out links to a terrorist group. In a more recent case, yet another teen was charged with aiding the Islamic State group when he tweeted about various methods people could use to fund the group by using Bitcoin. As Dana Boente, a top federal prosecutor noted, such cases “demonstrated that those who use social media as a tool to provide support and resources to ISIL will be identified and prosecuted with no less vigilance than those who travel to take up arms with ISIL.”

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Of course, tweets like these are very different from more innocuous social media activity that only mentions terrorists or terrorist organizations. As in most cases with the law, both context and intent are key. FBI Director James Comey told the Huffington Post, “I can imagine an academic sharing something with someone as part of research would have a very different mental intent than someone who is sharing that in order to try and get others to join an organization or engage in an act of violence. The government is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you acted with a criminal intent to violate the statute.” But if this is indeed proven, then an individual’s tweet history could be used in a court of law against him or her.

So tweet with caution. After all, the FBI may be watching.