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Social Media Spurs Middle Eastern Conflict

Extremist Group In The Middle East Is Using Social Media With Disturbing Effect

The jihadist group ISIS is using Twitter to promote its violent and barbaric propaganda in ways that have never been seen before to such a wide-reaching extent on social media.

Who are they?

ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, was an off-shoot of Al-Qaeda but has recently been disowned by the group. ISIS rose in popularity during the Syrian conflict and now controls parts of northern Syria, also leading the insurgency against the Iraq government.

What are they doing?

The group is using social media sites like Twitter to great effect to spread their message and recruit supporters. Despite limited battlefield successes, the group has deployed a sophisticated social media strategy that is redefining its propaganda, and importantly giving off the impression of a far stronger online presence than in reality.

Since the offensive began in June, a string of Twitter accounts claiming to represent ISIS have been active in providing live updates on the group's operations and images illustrating their military strength and advances.

Its Twitter feed is filled with extensive details of operations, numbers of bombings, suicide missions and of the checkpoints and towns under the group’s control; the group uses Twitter to live tweet its advances on towns.

Accompanying the ISIS hashtags, which have been trending in various countries, the group produces professional YouTube videos urging supporters to post messages, photos and videos on Instagram and Facebook.

How is the Iraq government responding?

The Iraqi government has blocked all social networking sites this week amid the escalating conflict. Users trying to access Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Viber and WhatsApp in Baghdad and around the country are greeted with a message saying the Ministry of Communications has barred access.

A government spokesman told Anadolu news: "The ministry is working according to the orders of senior security leaders to cut off Internet services due to the ongoing war against terrorism."

He continued: "We are receiving orders to block sites to communicate the fact that the war with ISIS is now the media war and the government wants to control those sites to prevent rumours being broadcasted."

Why is ISIS’s strategy so damaging?

According to the BBC Trending team, the Arabic phrase ‘it will remain’ (promoted extensively by ISIS) has been used thousands of times; the group is trying to trend globally, indeed with some success.

Clearly it’s an attempt to spread their message and promote strength, regardless of factual truth – what is worrying, is that the online illusion is being taken for reality, instilling fear and distrust on the ground.

The group’s ultra-conservative regressive goals (to return to the earliest Muslim living and worship conditions) are accompanied by an incongruously modern social media propaganda machine. In April this year, the group developed a free internet application called The Dawn of Glad Tidings, which automatically posts ISIS-approved tweets to the accounts of the application's subscribed users.

The posts include hashtags, links, images, videos and other content. Almost 40,000 tweets were posted in a single day during the recent clashes in Iraq. Released simultaneously from the app, messages swamp social media giving the group a far wider online reach than their own accounts could achieve, creating the impression of a rampant and unstoppable force. Indeed, there are reports of Iraqi security forces fleeing their posts in fear of the supposed oncoming ISIS storm.

Again according to BBC analysis, the ISIS hashtag is being retweeted a vast amount across the Gulf. The team found 10,000 uses of the ‘it will remain’ hashtag in one week in June, of which 35.1% originated in Saudi Arabia supporting fears that the group is soliciting for wealthy donors in this area. 10.8% of ISIS hashtags originate in the US and UK, where the group is presumably looking for recruits to join the conflict.

This wide-spread social media campaign indicates a shift from an insular group to one which is actively reaching out to the world. Middle East experts are still cynical however, accrediting fear which is borne out of social media not reality, saying that the group do not have the manpower or supplies to storm the Iraq capital.


Katie Rowley 

Recent graduate and now interning as content editor, when she's not writing articles Katie can quite likely be found festival-ing, holiday-ing or reading a book (dedicated English student that she is). Follow her @KatieAtSMF.

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Social Media Spurs Middle Eastern Conflict Reviewed by Anonymous on Thursday, July 10, 2014 Rating: 5
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