By Kaiser Shaffer, Executive Editor
In the midst of losses of strategic territory – including their own capitol – over the past few months, ISIS has found traction in one major battleground: social media.
Like other extremist organizations before them, ISIS has been able to wield dominant media platforms in order to reach past their own borders. Twitter has provided a platform for ISIS to spread propaganda and messages across the globe for free.
The New York Times noted that they also utilize “services like JustPaste to publish battle summaries, SoundCloud to release audio reports, Instagram to share images and WhatsApp to spread graphics and videos.”
It’s a strategy that has been able to reach out beyond their territory and recruit people from Europe, the United States and beyond. In a recent article, Popular Science said “a decade ago, it would have been unthinkable that a militant in Syria might become pen pals with a lonely teenager in small-town America.”
This is a reality that continues to cause concern domestically for both the National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Intelligence as they try to close communication channels that may allow propaganda to reach and motivate sleeper cells in the States.
Most recently, Twitter has cracked down on ISIS-linked accounts in an attempt to stop propaganda from circulating on the service. Two months ago, the service announced that it had suspended 125,000 accounts in less than a year. It had even hired more staff to handle the influx of accounts that need to be suspended.
A study by George Washington University found that Twitter suspensions “typically had a very significant detrimental effect on these repeat offenders” by making it hard for users to reconnect with other ISIS supporters and deterring them from creating new accounts in the first place.
Unfortunately, recent attacks both Paris and Brussels have been accompanied with ISIS-led social media campaigns. Accounts linked to ISIS were able to create hashtags and tweetable messages for other supports to virally spread propaganda in the moments after the attacks. One Business Insider article said that significant events like the bombings in Europe make it much easier for ISIS members to use social media “in an effort to gain continued credibility and influence.”
In wake of the Brussels bombings, Michael V. Hayden, former director of the NSA and CIA, said that European nations have too heavily relied on the United States for intelligence and called for more EU countries to collaborate on surveillance in order to streamline information sharing. European leaders have pointed to the bombings as a reason for tighter surveillance on communication networks throughout the European Union. Many hope that tapping cell phones and digging into social media communities may help authorities catch terrorist plots well before they come to pass.