Foley beheading is ‘growing up’ moment for social media

The beheading of American journalist James Foley – and the distribution of images showing that crime – have led to a moment of maturation for social media.

Foley, held in captivity for two years, was beheaded a few days ago – his death featured in images distributed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The images were part of a slickly edited piece that experts say is aimed at terrorizing opponents and attracting recruits in western nations.

The Internet offers information in ways – and amounts – impossible before. People seeking information can find out more faster on a particular topic than at any point in human history. Social media, however, also offer the opportunity for terrorist organizations to spread their message faster – and then even faster.

Individual social media users have encouraged others to boycott the ISIS images of Foley’s murder, and social media companies have been moving to censor the objectionable content. Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter Inc., said the company was "actively suspending accounts as we discover them related to this graphic imagery."

YouTube, owned by Google Inc., and Facebook began removing content and links showing the beheading on Tuesday.

Foley’s executioner has a British accent, and many experts feel the video was aimed at attracting possible followers in the West, while attempting to manipulate the United States and its allies into a position of fear.

Generally, more information is better. We are learning, however, that the same electronic systems that can enlighten and inform us can also be used by terrorist organizations in negative ways.

Leaders in the social media field deserve accolades for acting responsibly. No one is prohibited from learning what happened to James Foley, but it is a grown-up response to refuse to allow social media forums to be hijacked by those who took his life.



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