ISIS: Terror Has Gone Social [Infographic]

August 12, 2014

The Islamic State (ISIS) has built a sophisticated and impactful online propaganda campaign using many social media networks, including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp. The group employs experts in the areas of marketing, PR and visual content production to ensure the legitimate appearance of its messages. The intended goals of the campaign – mainly recruiting new members (including westerners), inciting fear in adversaries, creating a united front geographically and raising funds – are consistently being achieved.

We have seen social media platforms act as channels for virtual grassroots campaigns, where the voices of millions coalesce into a single actionable goal. ISIS has taken this use of these platforms a step further by mastering the art of taking the voices of few and making them sound like the voices of millions. It is important that social media users understand the real-world impact this type of propaganda can have, because unfortunately social media is not always used for good.

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While the advancement of incoming armies used to be marked by battle cries and the distant pounding of war drums, conquering forces are now implementing more personal tactics – namely those found through your mobile device and personal computer. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) recently issued a successful social media blitz that managed to promote and spread their brand, propaganda and news across the globe to costly and devastating results for those on this side of democracy.

What Exactly is ISIS?

ISIS is a splinter cell of Al Qaeda, and an unrecognized state and active militant group operating in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. While Al Qaeda was the first terrorist organization to successfully use social media for widespread communication of its mission, the effectiveness of ISIS’s current social media tactics is unprecedented in the history of jihadist movements. Efforts span all the way from active locations around the Middle East to the Western world.

What do they aim to do?

1. Recruit to their cause, with a focus on children

2. Consolidate local support and increase territorial control

3. Establish a single Islamic state for Iraq and Syria

4. Raise Funds

5. Spread propaganda to incite fear, particularly in the Western world

6. Manipulate the military tactics of their adversaries for use towards their own agenda

How is ISIS using social media to further their war?

#Hashtagehijacking

ISIS activists will use a popular trending hashtag as a means of infiltrating conversations by adding that hashtag onto one of their unrelated tweets. They can also mass tweet using their own designated hashtags, which gets them to trend.

Personal Account Exploitation:

ISIS has created its own app, an Arabic-language Twitter app called “The Dawn of Glad Tidings” (or just “Dawn”). When users sign up, they give ISIS permission to send tweets through their own personal accounts. This allows ISIS’s tweets to reach hundreds or thousands more accounts, giving the perception that their content is bigger and more popular than it might actually be.

Bot Armies:

ISIS uses networks of computers it has infiltrated (“bots”) to carry out its campaigns via remote control, making those behind the activities unidentifiable. Because these bot armies are so widespread, as governments and social media networks continue to thwart ISIS’s maneuvers, the group is always one step ahead as they use the bots to continually regenerate accounts.

Western Trend Manipulation:

ISIS distributes propaganda specifically designed to target a Western audience, for instance by using hashtags that they are sure the Western world is searching for – like #worldcup2014 #fifaworldcup – for the purposes of recruitment or inciting fear.

Education:

The Dawn app is used as an education tool, distributing news and information about ISIS to its users. In addition to promoting information about its group, ISIS also educates its social media followers on how to access information that has been blocked by governments and social media sites through TOR/anonymizer tutorials.

Fight Social Media Terror:

ISIS has built a sophisticated and impactful online propaganda campaign using the many social media networks available, including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp. The group employs experts in the areas of marketing, PR and visual content production to ensure the legitimate appearance of its messages. The intended goals of the campaign – mainly recruiting new members (including Westerners), inciting fear in adversaries, creating a united front geographically and raising funds – are consistently being achieved.

We have seen social media platforms act as channels for virtual grassroots campaigns, where the voices of millions coalesce into a single actionable goal. ISIS has taken this use of these platforms a step further by mastering the art of taking the voices of few and making them sound like the voices of millions. It is of utmost importance that the users of social media understand the real-world impacts it can have, because unfortunately social media is not always used for good.

 

SOURCES
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/06/isis-iraq-twitter-social-media-strategy/372856/
http://www.itv.com/news/2014-06-17/isiss-official-app-available-to-download-on-google-play/
http://www.vocativ.com/world/iraq-world/isis-tries-outwit-social-networks/
http://www.buzzfeed.com/miriamberger/twitter-has-suspended-an-isis-account-that-live-tweeted-its
http://www.renesys.com/2014/06/amid-raging-violence-iraq-orders-internet-shutdowns/
http://observers.france24.com/content/20140613-hollywood-fim-jihadist-propaganda-isis
http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/06/14/isis-behead-policeman-picture-graphic_n_5494958.html?utm_hp_ref=uk
http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/24/world/isis-facebook-merchandise/
http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/114/32610/Egypt/-January-Revolution-continues/Twitters-role-in-revolutionary-Egypt–isolation-or.aspx
http://www.aaai.org/ocs/index.php/ICWSM/ICWSM11/paper/view/2850/3274
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/iraq-crisis-exclusive-isis-jihadists-using-world-cup-and-premier-league-hashtags-to-promote-extremist-propaganda-on-twitter-9555167.html
http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-28136109
http://thenounproject.com/ – Luis Prado & Luke Anthony Firth