Twitter takedowns of ISIL accounts working, says report

A methodical suspension campaign by the social media company has severely diminished the terrorist organization’s capacity to distribute propaganda

The takedown campaign launched by Twitter against supporters of ISIL is beginning to work, according to researchers at George Washington University.

white paper from the Program on Extremism at the university’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, titled “The Islamic State’s Diminishing Returns on Twitter,” asserts that the social media giant’s methodical banning of recruitment and propaganda accounts has dramatically reduced the number of repeat offenders and minimized the number of followers who return to accounts resurrected under different names.

“Suspensions have a measurable effect in suppressing the activity of ISIS networks on Twitter,” said J.M. Berger, fellow at the program and co-author of the study. “Occasional large-scale suspensions, such as we saw after the Paris attacks, have dramatically reduced the size of ISIS’ presence on social media, and a lower level of routine suspensions hold the network flat in between these events.”

ISIS, also known as ISIL, has spread its war of terror into cyberspace by employing tech-savvy recruitment strategies that target young sympathizers via social media. 


Researchers compiled data by tracking the network of an ISIS recruiter identifying as “Baqiya Shoutout,” compiling a daily list of followers and analyzing the fluctuations among those that clearly support ISIS. From August to October 2015, the period of the research, the average number of tweets per day dipped from eight to less than six, a figure which the report notes has dropped even more dramatically in the wake of November’s Paris terrorist attacks as Twitter began mass banning.

Twitter’s primary tactic has been a vast suspension campaign that locks onto unique users that have been traced to ISIS and bans their accounts nearly as quickly as they are created. Despite ISIS countermeasures such as using donated accounts and employing bots to quickly create new accounts as Twitter bans them, ISIS’s network has now stalled at around 1,000 accounts at any given time, and users from Iraq and Syria have decreased sharply as militants have been eliminated.

A gradual movement towards alternative social media platforms — like encrypted chat app Telegram — has been met with similar problems, as the service began blocking public communications from ISIS-supporting accounts. Additionally, according to the report, ISIS recruiters have encouraged their peers to focus on Twitter, as the potential for reaching likely sympathizer is much greater.

“Telegram is not a media platform for dawa [proselytizing] to all Muslims and the West. No one will enter your channel except the Ansar [ISIS supporters] who already know the truth,” one ISIS Telegram account is quoted in the report, published Thursday.

“Or your enemies to report you,” the quoted message concludes.

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