ISIS is an ever-present topic in the news. With the election of Donald Trump as our next president, the issue becomes more pressing. ISIS fuels terrorist sentiments with examples of anti-Muslim behavior (such as the the registration of Muslims in America that Trump is suggesting).
Social media has allowed for easy overseas recruitment of Americans and other nationalities that are hoping to act on their feelings of hate. ISIS has “at least 40 media organizations pumping out video, audio, and written material” for radicalization and recruitment purposes according to Marie Claire. For women, these images might be of lively markets, laughing children playing outside, or even women carrying machine guns. They’re marketed the idea of sisterhood and the opportunity to marry a jihadi fighter and the opportunity to support the cause by raising the next generation of militants.
Feeding off the want for friends, followers, and likes
Why social media? It easy. You’re at home. No one is watching you. Recruiters aggressively monitor them.
ISIS performs a sort of “love bombing” to bring in women. As soon as you express any type of interest online via posts or asking questions, you are bombarded with attention. On Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr, people will show their allegiance by putting “IS,” “Islamic State,” or “Dawlah” in their private profiles. Some people put the ISIS flag in their cover photo or profile picture, while others post photos dotted with the symbol. Many brag in their bios about how many times their accounts had been shut down and tell followers about alternative accounts. If you do these things, you instantly gain 500 new followers on Twitter or 500 new Facebook friends.
People instantly feel popular and important online where they might not have felt welcomed or liked in their own physical community. The conversations that recruiters have are 99 percent of the time not about religious ideology or violent things. They’re trying to create an image of a welcoming community that will help them form their identity and serve their religion. For someone who might be feeling rejected, it could be very appealing. They tailor the conversations they have based on your profile and demographics. They’ll get someone in their 20s from North America to talk to a recruit in America. They’ll use emojis, send GIFs, talk about anything.
Online conversations and privacy
Once recruiters start talking to recruits they move to more secure platforms. Twitter blocked 125,000 ISIS-related accounts this past February and so the group is looking for more secret and secure ways to convene. Recently, ISIS has been using the app Telegram (amongst others). Telegram is an encrypted messaging app that ensures the utmost privacy for its users.
The app seems like the perfect place for ISIS to hold conversations because of their high dedication to privacy. What’s startling about the app is that the creator, Puvel Durov, is aware of ISIS’s use of his app. He said they have shut down their public channels but have made no efforts to stop their private conversations. When asked about it at a TechCrunch and whether it bothered him that ISIS was using his app he responded:
I think that privacy, ultimately, and the right for privacy is more important than our fear of bad things happening, like terrorism. If you look at ISIS — yes, there’s a war going on in the Middle East. It’s a series of tragic events. But ultimately, the ISIS will always find a way to communicate within themselves. And if any means of communication turns out to be not secure for them, they’ll just switch to another one. So I don’t think we are actually taking part in these activities. I don’t think we should be guilty or feel guilty about it. I still think we’re doing the right thing, protecting our users’ privacy.
He says that if they kick ISIS off, they’ll just use other platforms. But isn’t it important to create barriers and problems for these terrorists? This brings in the age old question of privacy versus national security. Is it really Telegram’s job to protect ISIS’s privacy as a user? I personally don’t think so but perhaps it does conflict with their business model. It is definitely a different approach than Facebook or Twitter’s in which they monitor private and public conversations with computers (like I describe in one of my blog posts about sarcasm monitoring).