Social media has long been a weapon in militant organisations’ arsenal. YouTube videos and Facebook pages have proved to be powerful propaganda tools. ISIS is evolving the technique in Iraq.
First, they have mainly been using Twitter to post images and some video. Each region ISIS is active in has its own Twitter account, delivering daily updates.
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, who has been following ISIS’s social media tactics from Oxford University, told Sky News the Twitter strategy was “very co-ordinated”.
“ISIS’s social media presence is particularly apparent on Twitter,” Mr Al-Tamimi said. “They all follow each other.
“Really, the Iraq accounts follow on from the Syria accounts. Whereas last year, a lot more of the visual media output of the ISIS presence was coming from Syria, now in Iraq, since the renewal of the wider insurgency, they’ve been keen to advertise their presence with photos – particularly on Twitter.”
Why Twitter? Well, it is extremely robust. If a Twitter account is taken down, it is very easy to set up another and transfer your followers.
Twitter also makes it easy for fighters to maintain personal accounts, and that is the other new spin.
Previously, propaganda was broadcast over YouTube. Now militants are using mobile messaging platforms like Kik and question and answer sites like Ask.fm to engage others more directly.
Shariz Maher, from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at Kings College, London, puts it like this: “When Jihadi groups tried to recruit in the past, they would release a video. It would be very well managed. They’d be saying ‘come out here’, they’d use ideological reasons, ‘look what the West is doing, the Koran says this’. And it was packaged in this very sophisticated way.
“Out of Syria now with these guys who are just tweeting about their experiences, they’re able to relate their fellow Britons on a one-to-one level.
“They’re saying, ‘look, I lived in East London, I’m from Tower Hamlets. Now look at me – I’m in Syria, I’ve got these cool tools, an RPG, a Kalashnkiov’, and for a certain type of person that’s very attractive.”
The wider tech story of the past year has been about the rapid rise of mobile messaging apps like Kik and Whatsapp – popular because they offer a more direct, engaging experience than Facebook or YouTube. It seems militants have been paying close attention, too.
However, it could be getting harder for them to take the advantage – there were reports on Friday that Iraq’s communications ministry has ordered social media websites and apps to be shut down.