A social network used by Islamic State militants said it cannot stop the spread of graphic material on its servers -- for the simple reason that it doesn't actually control them.
Diaspora was set up specifically to avoid the possibility of centralised control by a network administrator. Instead of hosting its content on its own network, it instead uses thousands of private servers which cannot be shut down or controlled directly.
IS switched to Diaspora after its accounts on Twitter were blocked - many following the beheading of American journalist James Foley in Syria.
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Diaspora wrote in a blog post that it was concerned by the Islamic State's use of its technology, but is literally powerless to stop it.
"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."
The service said it was contacting the owners of servers currently hosting IS material, partly to reinforce the fact that they could be breaking the law by doing so.
It said that many of the largest servers had already removed the material, and that it was collecting details on the accounts to pass to administrators.
"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 JoinDiaspora.com which was apparently used as a main distribution channel."
Diaspora added that the same elements that its core weaknesses are also its strengths, and said that it remained proud of its ability to host discussions and social networks outside of the mainstream social networks.Suggest a correction