The war between Islamic State (Isis) and the West is being waged on social media as well as on the ground. After
Twitter and YouTube have barred Isis propaganda, the social media war has spread to Diaspora, an open-source social network, where it is impossible to remove content from anyone.
Dr Bernie Hogan of the Oxford Internet Institute says, “Diaspora started off with the purpose to be decentralised, which has both good and bad aspects. The good part is that you don’t get state interference and the bad is that you don’t get state interference.”
Launched in 2010, Diaspora is unlike Twitter, Facebook and most other social networks which rely on a central database. Instead it has an open, decentralised platform, with an estimated 1 million users. Anyone can download use the Diaspora software to set up their own “pod”, which is hosted on a private server but connects to the rest of the Diaspora network to share posts, messages and media. As on Facebook or Twitter, users have to choose who they follow in order to see their posts.
It was intended as a welcome antidote to wholesale and indiscriminate snooping by the American NSA and Britain’s GCHQ, but Isis has changed the equation considerably.
The Diaspora Foundation, which controls the development of the software said in an unsigned statement on its website: “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 Isis activists to our network.”
“Because this is such a crucial issue, we have accumulated a list of accounts related to Isis fighters, which are spread over a large number of pods, and we are in the process of talking to the [admins] of those pods,” the foundation said. “So far, all of the larger pods have removed the Isis-related accounts and posts. This includes a high-volume account on JoinDiaspora.com which was apparently used as a main distribution channel.”