Anonymous recently released the handles of some 9,200 Twitter users who support the extreme Islamic State, to pressure Twitter into taking action against accounts being used to spread extremist ideology and propaganda. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, however, has received death threats if the social media site suspends or bans the ISIS supporters or deletes ISIS sympathizers from its webpage. Should Twitter take Anonymous’s, or ISIS’s threat more seriously?
Government officials insist that fighting the Islamic State terror group requires much more than taking down websites or removing Twitter accounts; they claim that a propaganda war by experts is the only feasible solution to weaken the group’s pull on social media.
“It is not a panacea; it is not a silver bullet. People exaggerate, people think this is worthless or they think it a magic thing that will make the extremists surrender. It is neither one of those. It is slow, steady, daily engagement pushing back on a daily basis,” a US official said of the government’s own online anti-Islamic State campaign.
Harassing the Islamic State group online is a meaningless exercise? Guess not, since social media is a powerful tool for ISIS looking to lure potential vulnerable, young and educated recruits into the terror outfit.
Some experts are definitely in favor of Anonymous’ attacks on Islamic State’s cyber-assets. Foreign Policy’s Emerson Brooking believes that the US government should pay Anonymous in Bitcoin to fight ISIS as the group appears to be much more capable, and much more willing, than the government at battling extremism online.
“If the United States is struggling to counter the Islamic State’s dispersed, rapidly regenerative online presence, why not turn to groups native to this digital habitat? Why not embrace the efforts of third-party hackers like Anonymous to dismantle the Islamic State — and even give them the resources to do so?” he asks.
Brookings Institution fellow J M Berger and his colleague Jonathon Morgan ‘found substantial evidence’ that account suspensions seriously damages Islamic State’s online operations. “In September 2014, Twitter began to crack down on ISIS supporters suspending tens of thousands of accounts. The size of ISIS’s support network on Twitter is shrinking as a result. The hashtag that ISIS uses to promote its own messages has been taken over by opposing spammers, trolls and activists, who frequently tweet five times as much anti-ISIS content as ISIS can muster on any given day. ISIS users call the suspensions devastating, and their fury provides evidence that suspensions hit them where it hurts,” Berger said.
According to The New York Times, the US government wants to counter ISIS’s social strategy by consolidating anti-ISIS social messaging under an expanding State Department branch called the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications. It would seem that the government has finally discovered a reason for an open propaganda arm, which might account for its unwillingness to take the actions needed to bring down ISIS’s online presence in the way that Anonymous has.
“The high-quality videos, the online magazines, the use of social media, terrorists Twitter accounts — it’s all designed to target today’s young people online in cyberspace,” Obama said during a White House summit on countering extremist violence.