The above video, produced by what is ostensibly ISIS’s English and German propaganda outlet, is one example of how the militants are selling the cause to young Westerners. Meanwhile, J.M. Berger unpacks ISIS’s Twitter strategy, which is among the most effective of any Jihadi organization:
[A custom-built Android] app is just one way ISIS games Twitter to magnify its message. Another is the use of organized hashtag campaigns, in which the group enlists hundreds and sometimes thousands of activists to repetitively tweet hashtags at certain times of day so that they trend on the social network. This approach also skews the results of a popular Arabic Twitter account called @ActiveHashtags that tweets each day’s top trending tags. …
As a result of these strategies, and others, ISIS is able to project strength and promote engagement online. For instance, the ISIS hashtag consistently outperforms that of the group’s main competitor in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, even though the two groups have a similar number of supporters online. In data I analyzed in February, ISIS often registered more than 10,000 mentions of its hashtag per day, while the number of al-Nusra mentions generally ranged between 2,500 and 5,000. ISIS also uses hashtags to focus-group messaging and branding concepts, much like a Western corporation might.
Here’s an example of how effective that strategy has been:
But, much like a Western corporation, ISIS doesn’t have complete control of its online image, and tries to limit the “bad press” that makes it onto social media. Shiraz Maher provides some examples:
Social media, coupled with the ubiquity of smartphones, has meant that individual fighters can now film and upload events to the internet in an instant, often with little thought. Isis is not always happy about this. Just a few weeks ago, the group crucified two men in Manbij, Syria, for alleged apostasy (although supporters say the men were regime spies). A Spanish foreign fighter who had promised his followers a video of the spectacle had to make do with only providing pictures of the sadistic act. “Our leadership forbade anyone from filming it,” he said.
This is not the first time Isis has warned its members about their online activity. Earlier this year, the group chopped off the hand of a man in Raqqa. It was a dark, torrid affair with the swordsman requiring several attempts before finally severing the man’s hand. After understandable public outcry, the group has now prohibited anyone from filming similar events. It still goes on, of course, but anyone brandishing a smartphone will be censured. In many senses, this represents the “pluralising” of the global jihad. Whereas we had one or two voices to analyse in the past, we now have hundreds.
In response to the online jihad, Iraq has turned off the Internet in five provinces:
First, Internet service providers are instructed to fully cut access to Anbar, Diyalah, Kirkuk, Ninawa, and Saleh El Din provinces in their entirety, as well as to eleven other areas of the country. According to international Internet tracking firm Renesys, some of these areas, but not all, saw their access blocked a few days earlier. And at least some of the blocked areas are known to be spots of heavy fighting between the Iraqi government and the surging militant group known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The Iraqi government also instructed Internet service providers (ISPs) to reinstate or maintain the existing bans on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Skype, and to create new bans on other communication and social media services like Tango and Instagram. Finally, just in case anyone’s trying to use basic technology to get around those bans, the ban tells ISPs to try to block any use of virtual private networks (VPNs)—a way to reroute your Internet connection to access sites from a middle location—during the local hours of 4 pm to 7 am.
Twitter has also been shutting down accounts linked to the Islamic State that have been posting pictures of their atrocities, but Adam Chandler wonders if that’s a mistake:
While ISIS’ use of a social media platform to show pictures of grisly executions is repugnant, if anything, we’ve learned in recent weeks that social media campaigns (however problematic) have the power to impel the international community act on issues where awareness is typically low or muddied by the complexity of a particular situation. There is very little divining needed when mass executions are being documented and publicly glorified by a terrorist group. With the Twitter account suspended, the pictures of the ISIS insurgency and many of its horrific consequences have been preserved. They may be more useful out in the open.