Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) captures the national headlines for two reasons either their unimaginable violation of human rights or active usage of social media for various reasons. The world might be hugely concerned and to some extent succeeded in tackling the human right violations and physical threat that this militant group poses, but fighting them in the cyber world is altogether a whole new ball game. From time to time news about their global recruitment through social media, propagation through videos released on internet, and other such incidents grabs the attention of the intelligentsia. If reports are to be believed, there are close to 90,000 Twitter account of ISIS all across the globe using which they posts messages and videos. In fact, this group has been able to draw more than 20,000 people from all over the world to join them in their battle through social media which is becoming a serious threat for world peace.
To sum it all, ISIS is radicalizing social media network and other cyber means to spread its impact, and still the world is struggling to build an effective way to fight them on virtual world.
People from different countries are willing to leave their home behind to join ISIS and fight for a cause that perhaps can destroy the Middle East as well as world peace. This group is using the social media channels strategically to reach out to as many people as possible. Apart from gathering fighters and propagating, to gaining financial support a lot has been done through social media and web access.
From posting photos, videos, messages, their ‘success’ stories to developing a Twitter app to keep their global followers updated, ISIS definitely used social media to optimum to gain traction. In fact, their high quality videos with impressive editing work seems more like Hollywood movie trailers. And, on Twitter, in which they are highly active, ISIS populates trending hashtags to propagate and reach out to more people.
In short, ISIS has succeeded in gaining mass attention, propagate their ideologies, recruit fighters, and raise money for their battle; all using cyberpower. Though many believes that it is an overstatement to say this but no one can deny that the cyber presence of ISIS is helping them to gain strength.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said that,
It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.”
This sentence perfectly sums up the reason why ISIS is growing powerful through social media and in virtual world. On one hand, they are aggressively using their resources to further their cause and on the other hand, governments and authorities are not taking enough actions to limit ISIS in the web world. About the approach of the most powerful government in the world, i.e. US government, former head of Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC), a State Department group responsible for fighting the cyber war against ISIS, Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, commented on a CBS News interview that,
It’s not that ISIS is so great. It is that the response against ISIS is both limited, and weak.
The measures adopted by the governments and security agencies are not adequate as compared to the actions of this militant group that is influencing many other such groups globally. First, the kind of money invested in sustaining and fighting the cyber war is far less than the money invested on military; this somewhat gives the impression that the governments are not taking cognizance of the seriousness of matter. Secondly, the actions mostly taken against the online presence of ISIS is limited to banning the website or Twitter feeds which lacks definitive results as creating a website or a Twitter handle does not take much of an effort. Lastly, there is no counter propaganda to negate what ISIS is propagating.
ISIS might have been able to gain some brownie points through their cyber presence, but there are downfalls for them and advantages for authorities trying to curb them. As Max Abrahms, Northeastern University’s political science professor who specialises in insurgency and terrorism, says,
“What the social media alarmists (ones who focuses on ISIS’ social media benefits) ignore is that social media can increase not just the recruitment rate, but also the attrition rate.”
Further he states, “Not only are many Islamic State terrorists caught or killed via social media, but the propaganda can motivate governments into adopting a more robust counterterrorism response.”
Indeed, there are a couple of incidents where social media postings and selfies shared by ISIS members have led to successful operation by US Air Force and military forces. It definitely proves that their social media usage can help authorities and agencies to prepare better strategy against ISIS.
ISIS and their activity on social media and web world prove that technology has not only positively impacted the world but has also changed the war methods for which not everyone is prepared. So far, there has been no concrete strategy to limit ISIS on social media, and until and unless authorities devise a method curb their reach it will be difficult to lessen their impact.
Story Inputs: CBS News, The Daily Signal, Defense Tech