ISIS and Twitter: Social Media as a tool for Propaganda (BLOG 1)

ISIS and Twitter: Social Media as a tool for Propaganda

ISIS: one of the most prominent topics in the media as of late, whose influence seems to be spreading at an alarming rate towards varieties of ethnic groups and social classes around the world. The recent disaster in Paris shows how ruthless and organized the group can be, with hundreds injured and dead as a result. Just how does ISIS organize and recruit its members? How connected are they?

Social media platforms, though seen by many as a fun, interactive way of staying connected with celebrities and friends, can be turned into a dangerous tool for propaganda and violence. In the case of ISIS, Twitter has become one of their primary platforms for communication and promotion.

J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan state in The ISIS Twitter Census that: From September to December 2014, we estimate that at least 46,000 Twitter accounts were used by ISIS supporters, although not all of them were active at the same time.” (2)

(where image should be in blog post, image was sent as jpeg to Professor Bell to be included with the post.)

(above) Links to top 500 Twitter accounts as sorted by the in-group metric used to identify ISIS supporters. Red lines indicate reciprocal relationships. (Berger et al., 4)

Using Twitter, ISIS is able to spread propaganda and influence its audience to join forces with them, by showing “disseminating images of graphic violence, while using social media to attract new recruits and inspire lone actor attacks,”(4) which are geared towards looking the Western civilization look bad, according to Berger et al.

This does not mean that their actions go unchallenged.

Anonymous, the infamous hacking group, has begun to take efforts against ISIS since the Paris attacks as well as other online hacking communities. It is interesting to me how individuals with ideals like those of ISIS can coordinate their plans using something like Twitter, which I remember never thinking much of when it just started to circulate a few years ago. Looking at it now, it amazes me how such a simple social networking platform, which is connected to a staggering amount of people, can be used as a dangerous tool.


Katie Rogers from the New York Times writes that Twitter has in fact been making some effort to eliminate ISIS users: “In April, Twitter shut down 10,000 ISIS-related Twitter accounts,” and many of these takedowns “had come from online hacking groups,” (2015) proving that these groups have enough strength to assist law enforcement and authorities. As well as these hacking groups, Open-Source Intelligence Tools (OSINT) can be used by anyone to find suspicious accounts and their links.

“Daniel Cuthbert, the chief operating officer of security consultancy Sensepost, has been happily using OSINT tool Maltego to track a number of people online,” his research notes in particular “the groups ability to attract followers online; his research shows how a handful of ISIS-affiliated accounts have myriad links and wide influence,” (Brewster, theguardian).

In an age where technology has become more prevalent in many societies, it is important to adjust the rules of engagement as the times change, and make sure that our new tools are not used to spread physical harm and dangerous ideals. In the case of ISIS, everyone has to keep in mind that though free speech is important, we have to be able to recognize that this freedom can come with consequences if the rules become too broad.

*“Mr. Wallace said Twitter could be doing more, adding that a detailed request from the Counter Extremism Project asking Twitter do a better job at identifying and shutting down propaganda accounts was met with a canned response. He says that safety would be sacrificed in the name of free speech,” (Katie Rogers, New York Times)*

Emilia Vieni

Works Cited

Image (Google Images):