The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has garnered attention for its sophisticated use of social media. While the terrorist group has built on techniques pioneered by other terrorist organizations to spread its messages and recruit followers, social media companies are increasingly shutting down ISIS accounts and frustrating its propaganda distribution mechanisms.
On July 12, ISIS announced that several of its main media accounts would be suspending their use of Twitter in favor of a social media service called Friendica. This came after several weeks during which Twitter shut down ISIS official sites and ISIS replaced them with new ones.
Almost immediately, multiple ISIS supporters joined Friendica to follow the group.
On July 20, the content was deleted from seven of ISIS’s new Friendica sites. Every page on the Friendica website now comes with a banner at the top stating “Islamic State not welcome on friendica.eu.”
On July 20, ISIS tried again, creating accounts on alternate social media sites Quitter and Diaspora. Although the Diaspora accounts remain up, the Quitter accounts were shut down on July 23, replaced with a picture promoting peace and coexistence (see image), a link to a website selling books about Mahatma Gandhi and text in English and Arabic stating, “When you fight evil with evil – evil wins.”
In the past week, Twitter also shut down multiple accounts representing ISIS regional commands.
ISIS has already recreated some of its accounts on Twitter. Ale3tisam, an official ISIS media outlet that had unsuccessfully attempted to migrate to Friendica and Quitter, returned to Twitter and created a new account on July 23. Several of the regional groups have done so as well. There also remain multiple ISIS supporters with Twitter accounts who themselves regularly share official propaganda.
Terrorist organizations are resourceful enough to find new outlets when their accounts are shut down. ISIS has continued to create and distribute media to wide audiences throughout the last three weeks. However, there is no doubt that they also lose platforms and power, facing greater difficulty in spreading their hate. By responding aggressively to terrorist accounts, social media companies have the power to decrease significantly the reach of terrorists’ hateful messages.
Individuals can also aid in the process. ADL’s Cyber-Safety Action Guide enables the community to register concerns with Internet service providers when they encounter terrorist content online.