How Social Media Crackdowns are Decreasing Access to pro-ISIS Material

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (IS, ISIS, or ISIL) has been unquestionably the most adept terrorist group at utilizing mainstream social media. By promoting its “cyber caliphate” on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, the group has been able to recruit both active and passive support and disseminate radical content over an expansive audience.

In an attempt to counter ISIS’s online support, Twitter has levied copious amounts of suspensions on users that propagate pro-ISIS content. The George Washington University’s Center for Cyber & Homeland Security recently analyzed the effects of Twitter’s crackdown in their report The Islamic State’s Diminishing Returns on Twitter: How Suspensions are Limiting the Social Networks of English-Speaking ISIS Supporters. Data gleaned from their analysis of English-speaking pro-ISIS activity between June-October 2015 is summarized below.

Shutting up the ‘little birdie‘ that told you about ISIS: Social media authorities understand that preventing a user from accessing a platform is nearly impossible; if a devoted user is suspended, he/she will just open a new account under a different name. However, these suspensions still have a significant impact on the diffusion of ISIS propaganda. The report monitored four users that were repeatedly suspended but maintained the same descriptive profile information whenever they re-created an account. Each time these users were suspended, the report shows a substantial decrease in their number of followers, accounts followed, and tweets.

How ISIS users are getting back online: The report discusses several tactics that pro-IS users are employing when they return to Twitter after their accounts have been suspended. This includes a mechanism known as “shouting out.” Upon creating an account, users follow simple instructions to request a shoutout from designated accounts, which will then alert potential followers of the user’s re-appearance on Twitter. Users have also discovered that Twitter does not mandate registration of an email address or phone number for accounts outside of the U.S. In order to avoid the possibility of having their email or phone activity surveilled, pro-ISIS Americans are utilizing virtual private network (VPN) software to access Twitter via foreign IP addresses.

For additional resources on Domestic Extremism and Domestic Jihadism/Islamism, visit the Homeland Security Digital Library (some resources may require HSDL login).


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