Twitter raced to stop the spread of violent images of journalist James Foley's death Tuesday, but its attempts often weren't fast enough.
The social-media network swiftly suspended accounts that were sharing photographs and video purporting to show Foley's beheading at the hands of members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
But many users found the disturbing images appearing in their news feeds regardless, as ISIS—an organization that in recent months has captured large swaths of Iraqi territory—continued spamming its message as part of a coordinated campaign meant to evade and confuse Twitter's moderators.
Twitter's fight to scrub ISIS propaganda underscores the difficulty the platform faces in limiting abusive behavior as it continues to grow as a primary source of news consumption. It also marks the third high-profile challenge to the service's policing policies this month.
Last week, Twitter suspended an account affiliated with the Internet group Anonymous after it posted a photo that erroneously identified a police officer as the one who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The company also endured scrutiny earlier this month for slowly responding to photo-shopped images of Robin Williams's death that drove his daughter, Zelda, off of the platform.
In a statement Wednesday issued prior to news of Foley's death, Twitter said it would remove images of deceased individuals upon request from family members.
Twitter responded quickly to ISIS's online campaign, but not before graphic images circulated widely. Part of Twitter's difficulty in monitoring the enormous volume of content is that it relies primarily on other users to flag abuses. That protocol suffered some derision Tuesday:
In its haste, Twitter also made mistakes Tuesday. At least one ISIS-affiliated account appears to have been suspended for sharing Foley images, only to be reinstated:
And at least one journalist had his account briefly suspended. Zaid Benjamin, a correspondent for Radio Sawa, was among the first journalists to tweet about the video, which led to his account being briefly taken offline.
Early Wednesday morning, Twitter's CEO said that the company is actively working to stop the spread of the images:
Gaming Twitter to spread its propaganda is not new for ISIS, which has used the platform frequently to attract recruits and disseminate graphic images of its violence. Through the uses of sophisticated app-based services and waves of messaging campaigns, ISIS manufactures skewed popularity online. One technique the terrorist group often deploys is brute-force spamming by enlisting "hundreds and sometimes thousands of activists to repetitively tweet hashtags at certain times of day so that they trend on the social network," as J.M. Berger wrote for The Atlantic in June.
YouTube has reportedly also faced difficulty in taking down videos of Foley's death. As the service took down one video, others users began posting it, effectively creating a Whac-A-Mole problem.
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment, citing a general policy to not discuss individual accounts due to privacy and security concerns.
This post was updated Wednesday morning with news from Twitter.