The Islamic State terror organization is well known for its use of social media to distribute video and images of its affairs.
The Brookings Institute has quantified it, at least insofar as Twitter is concerned, and estimates there are a maximum of 70,000 pro-ISIS accounts, but it said 46,000 “is our most conservative” estimate. The report comes as the FBI issued a warning about American teens being susceptible to ISIS recruitment tactics.
The “ISIS Twitter Census” found that one in five of the accounts is in English while 75 percent were in Arabic. The report said that, “at a minimum,” 1,000 ISIS-supporting accounts were suspended between September and December 2014, and we saw evidence of potentially thousands more.” For its part, Twitter said it removed 2,000 ISIS-related accounts this week alone as supporters of ISIS have posted threats against Jack Dorsey, a Twitter co-founder.
According to the report, removing these accounts, however, might produce a paradoxical situation of sorts:
The process of suspension does create certain new risks. Most importantly, while suspensions appear to have created obstacles to supporters joining ISIS’s social network, they also isolate ISIS supporters online. This could increase the speed and intensity of radicalization for those who do manage to enter the network, and hinder organic social pressures that could lead to deradicalization.
The group’s presence on social media has garnered the attention of Ashton Carter, the new Pentagon chief. He told Congress this week that ISIS “is a social-media-fueled terrorism group in a way we haven’t seen yet.”
“People who are very distant from any battlefield, from any experience of radicalism, are suddenly becoming enticed through social media,” he added.
The preferred mobile tweeting platform was Android, the report found. Next was iOS and then Blackberry.
“Among users of the three most popular phone types, 69 percent had downloaded a Twitter client from the Google Play store or Google.com,” the report said. “Another 30 percent used a client downloaded from the Apple iTunes store, and about 1 percent had downloaded a client from Blackberry.com.”
The ISIS Twitter numbers are only a fraction of the 288 million users Twitter claims are active on the microblogging site.
The report said that 4 percent of the accounts had more than 5,000 followers, and none had more than 50,000 followers. Those numbers pale in comparison to President Barack Obama, for example, who has 56 million followers.
But while the pro-ISIS accounts began appearing last year, they likely reach millions of people worldwide.That’s because the Brookings Institute report found that between 500 and 2,000 ISIS-related account holders tweet in high volumes, and their messages can go viral.
“This activity, more than any other, drives the success of ISIS’s efforts to promulgate its message on social media,” the report said. “Short, prolonged bursts of activity cause hashtags to trend, resulting in third-party aggregation and insertion of tweeted content into search results.”
The report found that most of the tweets from the ISIS accounts originated in Syria and Iraq.