Although the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has become the new face of terrorism for a variety of complicated geopolitical reasons, the organization’s extensive use of social media has enabled it to spread its message of hate and violence to an unprecedented extent and with devastating effect.
Due to ISIS’ deft use of Facebook and Twitter, many security experts worry that the terrorist organization’s influence has the potential to spread far beyond the confines of the Middle East. Several intelligence officials have even stated that ISIS’s use of social media marks a new era of cyber warfare.
By carefully managing their online presence on Facebook and Twitter, ISIS has attracted many disenchanted Sunni Muslims in Iraq who feel their demands for greater inclusion in the political process alongside Shia majorities have been largely ignored. A surge in both American and British citizens traveling to Syria in recent weeks to assist ISIS shows a troubling pattern that would have been unlikely before the advent of social media.
How ISIS uses Facebook
ISIS uses its Facebook profile for more than just attracting followers. They’ve used it for fundraising and to disseminate targeted propaganda in the form of memes and ads designed to appeal to a younger generation of Western viewers. In the example below, ISIS is clearly intent on targeting youth who play video games and are familiar with the massively popular Call of Duty franchise. This demonstrates ISIS’s awareness of popular culture around the world and a desire to exploit its various aspects for the organization’s personal gain.
Even more disturbing, ISIS seeks to inspire troubled youths in the US to recreate horrific events like the Boston Marathon bombings. Although Facebook has been credited for quickly removing ISIS pages and related content, there are still private profiles that ISIS supporters use to spread the terrorist organization’s message. The issue is further complicated when considering the right to exercise free speech not just nationally, but globally. Given their obvious intentions of evil, should ISIS be permitted to use social media?
ISIS, Twitter and Hashtags
ISIS has also been known to use Twitter to assert psychological warfare and to frighten Americans. In one example (pictured above), an alleged ISIS supporter tweeted a message with the hashtag #AMessageFromISIStoUS stating “We are in your state We are in your cities We are in your streets You are our goals anywhere” in front of the White House. ISIS disseminates such information to make the claim (even if largely fallacious) that ISIS supporters reside in major cities across America. In addition, ISIS’s attempts at increasing social media engagement is also focused on keeping the terrorist organization’s aims topical in news headlines as a way to furthur promote their cause to a wider audience.
Many agree ISIS poses a significant threat to global stability, and that the forced displacement of millions of innocent civilians throughout the Middle East is only the beginning if the terrorist organization is left unchecked. Fortunately, international support in combating ISIS seems to be escalating beyond just lip service, and in a rare show of bipartisan agreement, even American legislators on both sides of the aisle agree that ISIS needs to be stopped.
Vice President Joe Biden recently stated in a speech in New Hampshire, “We take care of those who are grieving, and when that’s finished, they should know: We will follow them to the gates of Hell until they are brought to justice. Because Hell is where they will reside.”