The FBI Says Retweets are Endorsements

By Kate Knibbs on at

Remember when people put that “RTs ≠ endorsements” disclaimer in their Twitter bios, like that would offer some form of protection from being associated with what they retweeted? Well, a retweet can be seen as an endorsement. It can also apparently be used as evidence that you’re trying to join so-called Islamic State (IS).

Ali Saleh, 22 years old of Queens, New York, was arrested this week following an Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigation into his attempts to join IS. According to the complaint against him, Saleh began tweeting his plans in 2013. Saleh’s retweets came up repeatedly in the complaint as cause for arrest. Many of the specific examples given are times Saleh retweeted 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 retweets as evidence against Twitter-happy IS wannabes in other cases, as well. This summer a 17-year-old from the state of Virginia was arrested after regularly retweeting fawning statements about IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Plenty of people retweet pro-IS tweets for other reasons: to draw attention to how prevalent they are, for instance, or to ridicule them. People retweet horrible shit all the time and it’s not cause for arrests: lots of people started retweeting 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 are unable arrest someone for retweeting IS 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 retweet is an unambiguous endorsement. [NYDailyNews]