Isis propaganda: Study finds up to 90,000 Twitter accounts supporting extremist group

Terror group is able to 'exert an outsized impact on how the world perceives it' through social media

Heather Saul
Friday 06 March 2015 11:52 GMT
An Isis propaganda video purporting to show fighters near the Iraqi city of Tikrit
An Isis propaganda video purporting to show fighters near the Iraqi city of Tikrit

There are up to 90,000 accounts supporting Isis worldwide, according to a study analysing the population of Isis-affiliated accounts on Twitter.

The Islamist militant group has been extremely successful in spreading propaganda and uses the internet as a tool for recruiting and radicalising men and women from across the world.

Isis has a top down approach to disseminating propaganda, with a core group of members spreading the group’s messages, which are then re-shared by other accounts.

The Isis Twitter Consensus study of Isis-linked profiles between September and December estimated there were between 46,000 and 70,000 supporting Twitter accounts, with the researchers believing that the true figure was towards the lower end of this scale but setting an absolute maximum at 90,000.

Isis fighters during a parade in Raqqa, Syria

The terror group is able to "exert an outsized impact on how the world perceives it" because of its use of social media and number of online followers, according to the Washington-based Brookings Institute report.

It suggests governments and social media groups work together to develop a response to Isis’s presence, as well as the presence of other extremist groups.

The report comes after Haras Rafiq, the managing director of the counter-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation, warned Britain needed to do more to counter Isis propaganda.

Speaking at a counter extremism seminar, he said social activists should flaunt victories over Isis, such as the loss of Kobani, to expose their weaknesses and undermine their propaganda online.

The report’s authors J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan found typical Isis supporters were usually located within territories under the group’s self-declared caliphates in Iraq and Syria, or in regions contested by Isis.

Three quarters of Isis-affiliated Twitter users tweeted in Arabic, while one fifth tweeted in English. Accounts supporting Isis had about 1,000 followers each on average. This number is "considerably higher" than the followers of a regular Twitter user.

Twitter had started suspending accounts linked to Isis by the time the research was started, but the authors said this created a new risk, arguing: "While suspensions appear to have created obstacles to supporters joining Isis's social network, they also isolate Isis supporters online.

"This could increase the speed and intensity of radicalisation for those who do manage to enter the network, and hinder organic social pressures that could lead to deradicalisation.

Isis supporters recently called on jihadists around the world to behead Twitter employees after the network suspended a number of profiles.

Isis has threatened Twitter employees

Many Isis supporters often tweet from multiple accounts, reducing the impact suspension would have on their ability to disseminate propaganda.

The group also uses propaganda to distract from events it does not want publicised and to detract from losses it suffers on the groud.

Additional reporting by PA

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