Islamic State fighters on diaspora*

20 August 2014

Various newspapers have reported that members of the Islamic State (IS) have set up accounts on diaspora* to promote the group's activities. In the past, they have used Twitter and other platforms, and are now migrating to free and open source software (FOSS).

diaspora* is a completely decentralized network which, by its nature, consists of many small servers exchanging posts and messages. There is no central server, and there is therefore no way for the project's core team to manipulate or remove contents from a particular node in the network (which we call a "pod"). This may be one of the reasons which attracted IS activists to our network.

The diaspora* project team is, however, concerned about the activities of these members inside our network, because of the potential legal difficulties that hosting such material may cause individual pod administrators ("podmins"). As a FOSS project, anyone is able to use diaspora*'s software in any way they choose. We cannot therefore prevent anyone from using the software; we are also not able to influence the decisions of podmins.

As many of the members of the core team are pod administrators ourselves, we know it can be hard to detect such users. We rely on our community members to use the report function to alert their podmin to any post or comment they believe to be a cause for concern. However, because this is such a crucial issue, we have also accumulated a list of accounts related to IS fighters, which are spread over a large number of pods, and we are in the process of talking to the podmins of those pods. So far, all of the larger pods have removed the IS-related accounts and posts. This includes a high-volume account on which was apparently used as a main distribution channel.

The decentralized nature of the network and the FOSS philosophy of the project are two of the key strengths of diaspora*. However, they can make it more difficult to act swiftly when there is inappropriate activity on the network. Each pod administrator has final say over the content hosted on their pod, and we, and our entire community of members, work to help our podmins to keep the network healthy and growing.

We will continue our efforts to talk with the podmins, but we want to emphasize once again that the project's core team is not able to decide what podmins should do. If you find user accounts on a diaspora* pod which are a cause for concern, please contact the administrator of that pod; most pods have a link to contact the podmin. If you cannot reach the pod administrator, you can send us an email and we will attempt to contact the person concerned.