ISIS have used social media to wreak havoc in Iraq and Syria, but we can stop them

The group's expert use of Facebook and Twitter has helped fuel their support

Share

The Islamic State in Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) has taken control of huge swathes of Iraq and Syria, as well as hundreds of millions of US dollars.

Already notorious for their brutal religious extremism, it might come as a surprise that they're also highly adept at social media.

The group has been deploying an astute strategy across Facebook and Twitter, using it to spread its message to the wider public, build up its populist credibility and help indoctrinate sympathisers.

Its online campaign is highly sophisticated and effective. It has established both a top-down and bottom-up communication network with a global audience, which has even left counter-terror practitioners and government officials many steps behind. 

There are a handful of central ISIS actors who tweet and update pro-ISIS Facebook pages to fully spread the news of their victories. Leading ISIS Twitter accounts also provide constant updates and commentary on the situation on the ground.

Some of these accounts have upwards of 20,000 followers each, with the most prolific online activists streaming their feeds to over 35,000 followers. Others predominantly release images and footage of captured weaponry and equipment, while others tend to post horrific images of their victims.  The group also uses social media to expose the failures of the Syrian and Iraqi governments, and debunk their narratives on the crisis.

In a sense, uploaded photographs are used to mark territory. Hundreds, if not thousands, of photos have recently emerged showing ISIS's control of civilian and military airports, border crossings with Syria, banks and television stations.

This is an effective form of propaganda on its own, but also challenges the Iraqi government’s statements about the success of its counter-attacks.

Foreign fighters and grassroots supporters are also setting up profiles and accounts to share their experiences, retweeting information in an effort to help recruit new supporters and members.

The day-to-day concerns of the group are also discussed online, including issues as menial as whether or not there is access to the internet in certain locations, what the availability of women is like, and how hot it is.

While many accounts are in Arabic, there are a good number that are written in fluent English and other languages.

What this proves is that social media is allowing dangerous communication between militant groups to occur in real-time, and with little consideration for border controls, censorship or rank.

So what is to be done? As discussed in a recent Quilliam report, negative measures (such as blocking, censoring or filtering jihadist accounts) do little to remedy the problem, often attacking the symptom rather than the cause.

Instead, the information on sites like Twitter should be used as a key source of intelligence-gathering.

The ISIS social media campaign has taught governments a harsh lesson that misleading propaganda, particularly that which exaggerates false victories, is easily debunked. Because of this, governments should always be transparent and clear when explaining their policy decisions.

Groups and individuals concerned by the rise of groups like ISIS must also use their presence online to help channel a counter narrative on social media. Instead of just watching everything unravel online, they should call terrorist groups out on their crimes and attack their inhumane beliefs. 

It is only when the quiet majority of non-extremists use the same top-down and bottom-up processes that we can start to turn the online tide against extremists. At the very least, it would reduce the continued appeal of groups like ISIS for potential recruits, who are misled by a false narrative that promises adventure and spiritual fulfilment. This is simply not the case.

READ MORE:
Iraq warns of ‘a thousand Bin Ladens’ in SOS plea to world for help stopping Isis advance
Iraq government orders 'total internet shutdown' in 25% of country, rest left with limited access
Iraq crisis: Umar al-Shishani - the face at the forefront of the new terror wears a chilling smile

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

Recruitment Genius: Part-time Editor

£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exceptional opportunity has arisen for a pa...

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen and Bathroom Installers

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of designer kitch...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jeb Bush's campaign will emphasise both his conservative record as a former governor of Florida and his commitment to building a more inclusive Republican Party  

American democracy is up for sale, and it’s a warning to us all

Shirley Williams
Pupils arrive at school with their parents at the start of a new school year  

School-run parents: be careful – very careful – what you wish for

Grace Dent
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border