You know how we like to put a “RTs ≠ endorsements” disclaimer in our Twitter bios? Like that is supposed to offer some form of protection from being associated with what you re-tweet? Well, a re-tweet can be seen as an endorsement. It can also apparently be used as evidence that you’re trying to join a terrorist organization.
22-year-old Queens resident Ali Saleh was arrested this week following an FBI investigation into his attempts to join ISIS. According to the complaint against him, Saleh began tweeting his plans in 2013. Saleh’s re-tweets came up repeatedly in the complaint as cause for arrest. Many of the specific examples given are time Saleh re-tweeted others from his various Twitter accounts:
On August 25, 2014, a few days before the reservation was made, Twitter Account A re-posted (or “retweeted”) the following message originally posted by another user: “I’m ready to die for the Caliphate, prison is nothing.”
On June 17, 2015, Twitter Account B retweeted the following message: “IS is winning battle of hearts and minds. People have started to realize that war is a necessity.
On August 5, 2015 Twitter Account D retweeted an audio message entitled “Come and join the Caliphate.”
The FBI has been using re-tweets as evidence against Twitter-happy ISIS wannabes in other cases, as well. This summer a 17-year-old Virginia resident was arrested after regularly re-tweeting fawning statements about ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. So this is a tactic.
Plenty of people re-tweet pro-ISIS tweets for other reasons; to draw attention to how prevalent they are, for instance, or to ridicule them. People re-tweet horrible shit all the time and it’s not cause for arrests: Lots of people started re-tweeting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after they found his Twitter account after the Boston bombing, but these were more “Look! I found this guy!” gestures than a sudden surge of simpatico intentions.
The police can’t arrest someone for re-tweeting ISIS unless they have evidence that the intent behind the tweets signified someone acting with criminal intent. But if that’s the case, they seem to have no trouble making the assumption that a re-tweet is an unambiguous endorsement.
In other words, you might need to rethink it before re-tweeting tweets that attack state elements.