ISIS has forever loved social media, and it’s overreaching range of audience. Their propaganda has been posted all over the internet. From tweeting about lost soldiers on twitter, posting gruesome videos on YouTube, and recruiting new Western fighters on Ask.fm. But one app seems to be the hub of all their communication.
Telegram is a web and iOS/Android platform similar to WhatsApp. You are able to create a unique profile, have private conversations with friends and join larger groups, called “channels” of your interest. ISIS did not shy away from using this as another easy recruitment tool. With a bit of time and the right search-words, it did not take long to find a laundry list of currently open ISIS Telegram accounts. News from the front line of battle, with photos taken by their “media martyrs” filled up one group, while horrifying videos of DIY bomb tutorials and other illegal infographics were spread on another. If you wanted a “how-to” on being a hard working ISIS member, this is your library. But why is Telegram full of all this propaganda?
“Telegram purges ISIS content after Paris attacks” –TechCrunch Nov 19, 2015
Telegram features something that Twitter, Facebook and Ask.fm has never offered ISIS, encryption. It provides end-to-end encryption for those who seek it out. It’s much easier to see an ISIS fighter or sympathizer by a hashtag search on Twitter, but near to impossible to retrieve an ISIS telegram link unless it was sent to you by a current member. Telegram has been cracking down on ISIS related accounts, but just as they are deleted they can be created. It is a never ending cycle of social media tag. Channels are normally flooded with requests to current members to join the “mirrors” of that channel. Which, in the case of one being deleted, there is an exact copy of the channel and all its content, saving IS from losing all of its data shared with their eager viewers.
Nashir Agency, one of the most frequented accounts, currently holds 303 members, 183 in their English-speaking channel. It is always full of frontline war photos, and hosts weekly newsletters distributed as PDF files for users to read online and on their mobile devices.
“You can create a new channel within 30 seconds. So now, instead of opening three channels, [ISIS] opens 50 channels to spread propaganda. Deleting their channels doesn’t put a dent in their activity.”
What is most worrisome, is how easily accessible these channels have become. IS has been known to groom it’s victim recruits, brainwashing them in a way to believe that joining ISIS is worth while. Looking at the content here, it’s clear to see that they try to post the “good life” of ISIS. Men smile holding their machine guns, photos of seemingly happy men sharing food on top of a hill, and long farewells to their martyr friends who carried out suicide attacks. To a vulnerable recruit, I can see where the “not as bad as everyone says” mentality kicks in. This has been proven the point so many times, with young Westerners joining ISIS. Some stealing their parents’ credit cards and skipping high school to fly across the globe, all to meet an IS fighter they met online.
For the first time in modern history, a terrorist group is using social media to their advantage. Comparing their reach to the likes of Bin Ladin and his grainy public-address VHS tapes is like comparing a shared mixed-tape to the ease of downloading music off iTunes.
The most recent notable activity on the terrorists’ telegram account was the mention and proud responsibility of the Manchester Arena Attacks, which happened on May 22, 2017 in Manchester, England during the wrap up of an Ariana Grande concert. Telegram boomed with celebration and praise, while some channels showed a live-feed of the British Pound slipping in comparison to the US Dollar.
— Michael S. Smith II (@MichaelSSmithII) May 23, 2017
We remain hopeful that ISIS continues to use this method of communication. While Telegram accounts aren’t as easily accessible, they are extremely easy to monitor. Behind the encrypted walls of Telegram, they feel safer. Safe enough to spread information and each other’s accounts, which for Anonymous is a gold mine. The more information they feel comfortable to share is more information for groups against the unspeakable terrorist movement to use, in aid of taking them down. Or at least, making their social media game a bit more difficult.