The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) announced a new social media campaign this week designed to threaten the U.S. and warn it against sending military assistance to Iraq.
The campaign, “Warning to the American People,” is being organized on social media around the hashtag #CalamityWillBefallUS and is being directed through one of the many Twitter handles purportedly belonging to ISIS. Participants are encouraged to tweet using that hashtag in English or Arabic, although “tweeting in English is preferred.” Participants are also encouraged to repost officially sanctioned tweets that appear on the ISIS “union page” and use “photos of signs or designs with warning to Americans” when possible.
A number of images and slogans were pre-released beginning on June 24. These include images of the falling World Trade Center, quotes by the American Al-Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, and pictures of advancing ISIS fighters.
The official slogans feature threats against American invasion and a range of particularly inflammatory messages, including:
- “If the United States bombs Iraq, every citizen is a legitimate target for us.”
- “This is a message for every American citizen. You are the target of every Muslim in the world wherever you are.”
- “For every drop of blood shed of the Iraqis, Americans will shed a river of blood.”
- “Every American doctor working in any country will be slaughtered if America attacks Iraq.”
- “Don't come to Iraq unless you want another 11th September to happen.”
ISIS is particularly adept at harnessing the power of social media. The organization maintains a variety of Twitter accounts in multiple languages and several ISIS regional groups maintain Twitter feeds as well. ISIS also runs an app that automatically directs its propaganda onto supporters’ accounts, significantly augmenting its message and reach.Terrorist exploitation of online forums has become an increasingly important element of the radicalization process in recent years.
In addition, ISIS regularly takes advantage of hashtags that enable ISIS’s message to trend on Twitter. It also maintains a Twitter feed dedicated to informing supporters of trending hashtags. Supporters can then tweet ISIS messages that will be viewed by anyone looking at a trending topic (for example: an ISIS user might post a pro-ISIS
message along with the hashtag “#worldcup” as demonstrated by the image at right).
The current campaign marks a departure from standard ISIS propaganda. The majority of ISIS’s past attention has been geared to bolstering its image and recruiting fighters; surprisingly little has been directed against the U.S. But ISIS has nonetheless always expressed anger and suspicion about U.S. policy. An April 2014 speech by the group’s main spokesman, for example, conflated the U.S. with Satan, saying, “Yes, verily the plot of Shaytan [Satan] is weak. America came to Iraq leading a frenzied crusade….The Crusaders thought that no one would be able to overcome them; however Allah the Mighty and Majestic disgraced them and showed us the weakness of their plot.” In the same speech, he claimed that ISIS “is America’s toughest enemy.”
In addition to Twitter, the “Warning to the American People” campaign is being posted on Facebook, in YouTube videos, and on various extremist forums.