Why Isis is losing its propaganda war on Twitter

The viral reach of Isis sympathisers has been severely limited in recent months following a crackdown

Dustin Volz
Thursday 18 February 2016 08:45

Attempts by the jihadist group Isis to recruit new members over Twitter have stalled, according to a new study.

Amid a stepped-up crackdown against the extremist group's army of digital proselytizers, who have long relied on the site to recruit and radicalize new adherents, the English-language reach on Twitter has been hit hard.

Suspensions of English-speaking users affiliated with Isis from June to October 2015 have limited the group's growth and in some cases devastated the viral reach of specific users, according to the report from George Washington University's Program on Extremism, which analyzed a list of accounts promoted by the militant group.

The report found that easily discoverable English accounts sympathetic to Isis was usually under 1,000, and that those users' activity was mostly insular, limited to interacting with each other.

Isis has seized control of wide swathes of Iraq and Syria and claimed credit for attacks in Paris in November that killed 130. The US and other governments consider it a terrorist organization.

Twitter Inc has long been criticised by government officials for its relatively lax approach to policing content, even as other Silicon Valley companies like Facebook Inc began to more actively police their platforms.

Under intensified pressure from the White House, presidential candidates and some civil society groups, Twitter announced earlier this month it had shut down more than 125,000 terrorism-related accounts since the middle of 2015, most of them linked to the Islamic State group.

In a blog post, the company said that while it only takes down accounts reported by other users it had increased the size of teams monitoring and responding to reports and has decreased its response time "significantly."

J.M. Berger, a co-author of the report, said Twitter is still less active than many of its rivals but that part of that is due to its relative youth as a company.

"Each company has been dragged into this kicking and screaming," he said in an interview.

Reporting of Twitter accounts affiliated with Isis is a steady, low-level activity generally, but occasionally events lead to "periodic purges," Berger said.

The study took place prior to the Paris attacks, which the researchers said likely led to a heavy wave of suspensions mostly in French and Arabic networks.

The average tweets per day measured across the lifetime of an account also declined during the monitored interval, from a peak of approximately 14.5 in June to a low of 5.5 by October, the report found. The average number of followers was measured between 300 and 400.


Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments