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Cyber-Extremism: Isis and the Power of Social Media

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The current crises in Syria has led to a number of Britons travelling abroad to fight with groups such as Isis. Capitalising on this growth, Isis are now increasingly fighting an online cyber war, with the use of slick videos, online messages of hate and even an app that all aim to radicalise and create a new generation of cyber jihadists. These modern day tools are helping Isis spread their propaganda and ideology to thousands of online sympathisers across the world. Indeed, the group has actively been using social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to recruit new would be members. This is being done through images and the streaming of violent online viral videos filmed and professionally edited that are targeting young and impressionable people. Portraying a glamorised and ‘cool’ image, Isis fighters are beginning to act as the new rock stars of global cyber jihad. The Internet therefore is becoming the virtual playground for extremist views to be reinforced and act as an echo chamber. This study analysed 100 different Facebook pages and 50 Twitter user accounts which generated over 2050 results and helped the author create a typology of seven key behaviour characteristics and motivations. The findings in this study confirmed the author’s original hypothesis, i.e. online hate is being used by groups such as Isis for a variety of reasons such as recruitment and propaganda. Moreover, this material is coordinated and controlled by Isis as a means for publishing and sending out key messages.
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SOCIAL SCIENCE AND PUBLIC POLICY
Cyber-Extremism: Isis and the Power of Social Media
Imran Awan
1
Published online: 15 March 2017
#The Author(s) 2017. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com
Abstract The current crises in Syria has led to a number of
Britons travelling abroad to fight with groups such as Isis.
Capitalising on this growth, Isis are now increasingly fighting
an online cyber war, with the use of slick videos, online mes-
sages of hate and even an app that all aim to radicalise and
create a new generation of cyber jihadists. These modern day
tools are helping Isis spread their propaganda and ideology to
thousands of online sympathisers across the world. Indeed, the
group has actively been using social media sites such as
Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to recruit new would be
members. This is being done through images and the stream-
ing of violent online viral videos filmed and professionally
edited that are targeting young and impressionable people.
Portraying a glamorised and coolimage, Isis fighters are
beginning to act as the new rock stars of global cyber jihad.
The Internet therefore is becoming the virtual playground for
extremist views to be reinforced and act as an echo chamber.
This study analysed 100 different Facebook pages and 50
Twitter user accounts which generated over 2050 results and
helped the author create a typology of seven key behaviour
characteristics and motivations. The findings in this study
confirmed the authors original hypothesis, i.e. online hate is
being used by groups such as Isis for a variety of reasons such
as recruitment and propaganda. Moreover, this material is co-
ordinated and controlled by Isis as a means for publishing and
sending out key messages.
Keywords Isis .Cyber-terrorism .Extremism .Ter rori sm .
Radicalisation .Online .Social media
Currently, there are estimated to be at least 750 Britainswho
have travelled to Syria to fight against President Assads
forces (at the time of writing) (Whitehead, 2014). Within this
heightened atmosphere, a hydra global insurgency from a
plethora of extremist groups in Syria and Iraq, such as Isis,
have emerged that all have links to an extremist narrative
(International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, 2013).
As people continue to travel and fight with groups such as Isis,
the organisation has also begun a campaign of cyber jihad,
whereby they are using the Internet and social media sites to
target young and impressionable people (Berger, 2014).
Indeed, the threat groups such as Isis pose online has meant
that the UK Government are in a continuous battle to remove
online extremist material. The UK Government have currently
removed 15,000 items of jihadist propaganda(ITV news,
2014). This includes an online recruitment video, entitled:
Theres No Life Without Jihadwhich featured three British
fighters glamorising and encouraging people to come and
fight for Isis. The video, however has reappeared and was
available on YouTube and to date has 4, 289 views (at the
time of writing) (Al Hayat Media Centre, 2014).
Similarly, other videos have appeared online where the
leader of Isis, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi has called for Sunni
youthsto fight for Isis. He stated that: BI appeal to the youths
and men of Islam around the globe and invoke them to mobi-
lise and join us to consolidate the pillar of the state of Islam
and wage jihad against the rafidhas (Shia), the safadis of
Shi'ites^(New Delhi Times, 2014). Isis tactics of using social
media platforms to send out sound bites in this manner, allows
them to have direct communication with a wider global audi-
ence and gives them a platform they could simply not reach if
*Imran Awan
imran.awan@bcu.ac.uk
1
1Birmingham City University, The Curzon Building, 4 Cardigan
Street, Birmingham, Great Britain B4 7BD, UK
Soc (2017) 54:138149
DOI 10.1007/s12115-017-0114-0
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
they were attempting to recruit people face-to-face (Denning,
2010). These slick and well equipped videos are able to entice
those vulnerable to this extremist ideology. As a result, what
we are witnessing is Isis being able to tap into the minds of
young and impressionable people who are more likely to be
watching YouTube and using Facebook and Twitter (Awan,
2013). Moreover, this allows groups like Isis, a direct channel
whereby they can play upon individual grievances and dissat-
isfaction that makes those vulnerable feel as though they are
significant and important (Awan and Blakemore, 2012). They
are then able to use these videos, tweets, Facebook posts and
forums into online radicalisation tools, whereby they are able
to glamorise extremismand make it appear as though fight-
ing with them is cool.
This coupled with the excitement for many of these indi-
viduals can beused as a vehicle tocreate the myth that coming
to join Isis will be an adventure and a once in a life time
opportunity (Sekulow et al., 2014). This study examined
100 different Facebook pages, comments and posts and ex-
amined 50 different Twitter users which led to 2050 results in
order to capture and contextualise the impact Isis was having
on social media sites. Overall, the study found that Isis was
playing a significant role in its use of social media as a plat-
form to radicalise and recruit would be extremists.
Social Media Platforms Becoming a Tool of Terror
Social media platforms have a huge global reach and audience,
with YouTube boasting more than 1 billion users each month.
This breaks down into 6 billion hours of video that are being
watched each month and 100 h of video are uploaded to
YouTube every month (YouTube Statistics, 2014). Similarly,
Twitter has on average 350,000 tweets being sent per minute
and 500 million tweets per day (Twitter, 2014), whilst Facebook
remains the largest social media network with 500 million active
users and 55 million people sending updates (Fiegerman, 2014).
As this study will show, Isis have been using both platforms as
magnets that have attracted thousands of views, comments, fo-
rums and posts. For example, through the use of videos posted
on YouTube, it began itsone billion campaign, which called
upon Muslims to join Isis. The videos attracted huge audiences
and were accompanied with the words: Proudly support the
Muslim cause(Irshaid, 2014). The breadth and length of the
videos were also broadcast and shown in different languages
and countries such as Algeria, Libya and Egypt, thus reflecting
the transnational appeal of Isis. The videos specifically called
for; young men and Muslims in various parts of the world to
fight for Isis(see Fig. 1).
The Isis social media nerve centre is its Al Hayat Media
Centre which is sending many of these messages which reveal
the propaganda tools it is using. A number of these videos also
depict Isis as fighters with a moral consciousand show them
helping protect civilians. Some of the videos also show Isis
members visiting injured fighters in hospitals and offering
children sweets (see Fig. 2). These videos also form part of a
wider series called Mujatweetsand are produced with high
quality HD and powerful imagery. Indeed, this is reinforced
by online podcasts made by British Isis fighters on the ground,
such as Abu Summayyah al-Britani. Speaking from an
Internet cafe in northwest Syria, Abu Summayyah describes
in detail the nature of the conflict. He states that: BWe have
been successful so far in pushing back the regime^and also
described fighting in Syria as better than playing Call of Duty
(Lucas, 2014). Much of the Isis literature also uses motiva-
tional powerful themes which aim to appeal to the youth and
at the same time allow groups such as Isis to recruit and main-
tain its propaganda machine (Richards, 2014).
Furthermore, Isis had released a free to download app which
kept users updated with the latest news from the organisation.
The app entitled: The Dawn of Glad Tidings(see Fig. 3)was
promoted online and was available on the google android sys-
tem, before it was detected and suspended. The app once
downloaded allowed users to see and monitor tweets, links,
hashtags, images, videos and comments posted on their specific
accounts. Most of the content was regulated by Isisssocial
media arm (Chasmar, 2014). The paper, below will now exam-
ine, how the use of cyber-terrorism and social media have con-
verged in this virtual space for groups such as Isis.
Cyber-Terrorism and the Power of Social Media
Both the use of cyber-terrorism through the Internet and social
media have been used by extremist groups in order to manu-
facture a process of online hate. In the case of many of the
tweets and videos analysed in these cases, the Internet and
social media sites act as a knowledgeable database on how
Fig. 1 YouTube videos of the
one billion campaign
Soc (2017) 54:138149 139
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to promote violence as a strategy through the social learning
theory (Freiburger and Crane, 2008). This theory asserts that
individuals learn deviant behaviour from other groups, which
may lead to extremist learning that is categorised by associa-
tion, definitions, differential reinforcement, and imitation.
They argue that mechanisms of the social learning theory are
used by terrorist groups on the Internet as a tool to facilitate
attacks and recruitment. This perspective of deviant behav-
iours offers a thought provoking insight into the processes that
transform naïve individuals like Andrew Ibrahim into violent
extremists (Desmond, 2002). It also shows how social media
sites online have been used by Isis to create a terror network.
Indeed, Freiburger and Crane refer to a European case
study where Peter Cherif was recruited by Al-Qaeda over
the Internet through a similar learning process (Powell et al.,
2005). They argue that if groups become marginalized they
become more susceptible to using the Internet for terrorist
purposes. The use of social constructionism as a mechanism
to understand the competing definitions of cyber-terrorism is
crucial in getting a better understanding of the phenomena.
Clearly, social practices and social behaviour change with
time and thus our understanding of online extremism will also
evolve. Within this context social constructionism offers both
criminologists and sociologists a means to examine the vari-
ous social processes that emerge when looking at interpreta-
tions of online extremism (Felson, 2002).
McKenna and Bargh (1998) research suggests cyber space
and terrorism have converged thus allowing terrorists to use
the Internet for terrorist purposes. As a result of such
conflicting opinion there is a real and present fear, which
critics argue means the Internet and social media sites, have
become a safe haven for potential extremists to groomvul-
nerable people. Moreover, Tsfati and Weimann (2002)argue
that terrorist groups are using the Internet to groom vulnerable
individuals by justifying violence against innocent civilians as
a retribution for the invasions and crimes committed against
Muslims across the globe (Verton, 2003). They have a high
level of technological knowledge, spending endless hours
honing their skills. They simply enjoy the challenge of trying
to get into cyberspace. Their aims are not the same as extrem-
ists (Furnell and Warren, 1999).
Klausen (2015) argues that social media sites are being
used by Isis and others as a global cyber war tactic in places
like Syria. In Klausens(2015) study of social media net-
works, Klausen (2015) found that Twitter was being used by
Isis members as a means to create an illusion that the group
was more powerful than it actually was. This was being done,
as this paper has found through Twitter accounts and daily
feeds as a means to whip up support. Indeed, in a previous
study by Klausen et al. (2012) they also found that Jihadist
groups were using YouTube as a means for propaganda pur-
poses. They examined the group, Al-MuhajirounsYouTube
Propaganda Campaign and found that the group were using
YouTube media channels to politicize support and create pow-
erful terror networks.
Recruitment and Propaganda in Cyberspace
Ter ror ists use of social media and the Internet to pursue their
ideological aims is well documented. This includes terrorist
groups suchas Isis who are using the Internetand social media
sites, as a tool for propaganda via websites, sharing informa-
tion, data mining, fundraising, communication, and recruit-
ment (Conway, 2003). For Weimann (2004), however it
means terrorists, using the Internet for psychological warfare,
publicity, propaganda, fundraising, recruitment, networking,
sharing information and planning (Lachow and Richardson,
2007;Whine,1999). Recruiters therefore may use more
Fig. 2 Video showing Isis militants giving sweets to children
Fig. 3 The Isis App
140 Soc (2017) 54:138149
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interactive Internet technology (Kohlmann 2008;2006)togo
through and use online chat rooms and cyber cafes (Furnell
and Warren, 1999), therefore looking possibly for enlisting
support from vulnerable people. Marc Sageman states that this
form of interaction and chat rooms helps build ideological
relationships and are a key tool in radicalising young people
(Sageman, 2008). Schmid (2005), argues that online terror-
ism, therefore has become the new psychological warfare
and Arquilla and Ronfeldt (2001) make the case that terrorist
groups are now using online networks to create and cause
hostile virtual environments.
The nature of participation on the Internet and participa-
tion in online discussion via social media is the new political
activism. This is the process of turning to political violence
is an active one, and not a passive one. Indeed, following
the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich, the British Home
Secretary, Theresa May was quick to identify the Internet
as a potential source for radicalisation. She stated that:
BThere is no doubt that people are able to watch things
through the internet which can lead to radicalisation^
(Cited by Wintour and Jones in the Guardian, 2013). As a
result, the UK government has announced a new taskforce
called TERFOR, which will examine ways of restricting
what people can see on the Internet. The British government
is also considering a new Communications Data Bill (at the
time of writing) which it hopes will allow the UK govern-
ment, the power to filter extremist content and the flow of
content and work more closely with Internet Service
Providers in helping remove material which is considered
to be inciting people to commit acts of terrorism or violent
extremism (Kohlmann, 2006).
Social Media: Theoretical Considerations
The Social cognitive theory, purported by Bandura (2001)
provides us with some important points to consider with
regards, how online communication can be affected by the
social environment. According to Bandura (2001), the use of
this helps inform groups and creates motivatingfactors.
Bandura (2001:265)statesthat:Bsocial cognitive theory pro-
vides an agentic conceptual framework within which to exam-
ine the determinants and mechanisms of such effects. Human
behavior has often been explained in terms of unidirectional
causation, in which behavior is shaped and controlled either
by environmental influences or by internal dispositions.^
Within the construct of Isis motivation and behaviour, the
group have been proactive in exploiting the online environ-
ment and are using worldwide events such as the crises in Iraq,
to formulate ideas. For the social cognitive theory to work
here, we see how members of groups can act as producers
within an online social environment. Bandura (2001: 267)
argues that: BAn extraordinary capacity for symbolization
provides humans with a powerful tool for comprehending
their environment and creating and regulating environmental
events that touch virtually every aspect of their lives. Most
external influences affect behavior through cognitive process-
es rather than directly.^These use of emotional factors are
symbols of how Isis and other online hate groups can also
transform and galvanise online groups and transfer power of
the environment to create cognitive models of judgement.
Meyrowitz (1985) makes the case that electronic media has
meant that the way in which we interact with each other has
changed over time and that the Internet therefore has an
impact on social behaviour. Moreover, Meyrowitz (1985)ar-
gues that these online behaviours are determined by different
stages of online socialization. In the case of the behaviours
notedinthisstudy,thangroupssuchasIsisplayuponthis
identity crises as a means to create support. Meyrowitz (1985:
7) states that: Belectronic media have increasingly
encroached on the situations that take place in physically de-
fined settings. More and more, the form of mediated commu-
nication has come to resemble the form of live face-to-face
interaction.^This clearly is the case when examining how
groups such as Isis have used the power of social media to
construct different recruitment patterns.
Lietsala and Sirkkunen (2008) argue that the power of so-
cial media, therefore has meant we are now producers as op-
posed to simply the audience, which means that we are taking
a pro-active role in our interactions on the Internet.
Furthermore, Pennebaker and King (1999) argue that lan-
guage on social media sites can be used to create profiles.
Selfhout et al. (2010) argues that social networks are built
upon by these personality traits and friendships that are creat-
ed on social media. By using the big five personality model
which consists of five personality factors, i.e. openness, con-
scientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
Within this paradigm as discussed above groups such as Isis
are able to use social media to create key friendships by
selecting online friendswith users. Based upon the typology
the author has proposed in this study, then clearly we are
seeing a level of the five personality factors playing a role in
particular with regards the opennessand agreeableness
traits which show a selection of online friendships emerging
on social networks by Isis (discussed in more detail below).
Moreover, Goodboy and Martin (2015) argue that such
groups can build profiles upon certain traits. Their study ex-
amined the relationships between the Dark Triad personality
traits and self-reported cyberbullying behaviours. They found
three trait behaviours as being prominent in such cases, name-
ly; Machiavellianism, Psychopathy and Narcissism. They
state that: Bmultiple regression analysis revealed that of
the three Dark Triad traits, psychopathy emerged as the unique
predictor of cyberbullying. These findings reinforce extant
research suggesting that personality traits are important pre-
dictors of computer-mediated behavior^(Goodboy and
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Martin (2015: 1). Similarly, this paper makes the case that Isis
members act in a cybermob mentality, and are also using so-
cial media to cyberbully people through personal interaction
with online members. Goodboy and Martin (2015:1)argue
that cyberbullies attempt to Bharass, denigrate, impersonate, or
ostracize others^and Bspend a considerable amount of time
online and engage in risky online behaviorsFor instance,
cyberbullies tend to have personalities that lack self-control
and sensitivity; they tend to be higher in psychoticism and
verbal aggressiveness^. As this study found there were some
clear overlaps with those aggressive behaviours and how
members online were using videos and posts to coordinate
aggressive responses and enter into hate-filled dialogue.
Contena et al. (2015) examined the issues around self-
disclosure and how they are communicated on Facebook.
Citing (Krasnova et al., 2009; Krasnova et al., 2010;
Krasnova & Veltri, 2011) they examined how a proposed
comprehensive conceptual model of online self-disclosure is
used on social media sites, such as Facebook. They named a
number of factors such as perceived benefits, privacy costs,
trust factors, perceived control over information and aware-
ness as being key instruments of self-disclosure indicators on
Facebook. Joinson (2000) also makes the case that online
groups are aiming to balance self-disclosure in computer-
mediated communication with visual anonymity. Similarly,
Christopherson (2007) argues that anonymity affords online
protection for individuals and groups on social media. This
level of anonymity, according to Christopherson (2007)can
influence the way individuals behave within online groups.
This forms part of social psychological concepts within online
groups and includes the notions of bystander apathyand
social loafing.This level of anonymity online was also de-
scribed by Zimbardo (1969) as the deindividuation theory.
This means that anonymity and personal social environmental
factors can influence online behaviour.
Dubrovsky et al. (1991) argue that face-to-face
communication and electronic communication can vary in
different groups depending on the social structure. Similarly,
Hayne and Rice (1997) argue that anonymity in group support
systems is used by groups to create an online presence whilst
McKenna and Bargh (1998) make a compelling case that such
anonymity can actually also relate to strong group identity.
According to McKenna and Bargh (1998) these identities
are built upon a sense of self-esteem and self-belonging.
This means groups find and share personal experiences.
Isis on Twitter
Social media sites such as Twitter have also been used by Isis
as a means to recruit would be jihadists (Klausen, 2015). They
have been used to not only recruit people but to create an
ideological stance that aims to intimidate and cause fear.
Despite Twitter only allowing 140 characters to post a
message, these accounts will send out posts, religious decla-
rations and small bite size comments that maximise the appeal
of the group. The aim of using and broadcasting messages on
Twitter, means that the group are able to create a climate of
fear and anxiety. Moreover, this also allows Isis them to rein-
force their messages and use social media sites like Twitter to
act an echo chamber.
For example, Isis fighters have been reported to have been
using Twitter to post pictures of beheadings. In one such case,
Isis sympathisers and fighters were using the hashtag
#WorldCup with the accompanying words: BThis is our
ballit has skin on it^. For Isiss media wing Al-Furqan,
Twitter therefore allows them to be able to provide messages
with speed and reinforce that narrative with retweets to
thousands of followers. Twitter therefore acts as a megaphone
by which Isis are able to send out live updates of fighters
tweeting about what it feels like to be in Syria. Ultimately,
the aim for Isis is to win hearts and minds and maintain the
organisations appeal for young people. Katz (2014)statesthat
Twitter allows Isis to maintain a strong global focus that
stretches beyond Britain and Europe. Katz states that:
BIn addition to its general and local pages, ISIS is sup-
ported by approximately thirty other online media
groups. For example, the al-Battar Media Group, with
32,000 followers, works constantly to mobilize Twitter
members to support ISIS by translating ISIS releases
and by independently producing media...^Moreover,
Katz argues that (2014): BThe Billion Muslim campaign
has generated over 22,000 posts within four days since
its launch on June 13, 2014. On June 20, 2014, Twitter
users began distributing images displaying words of en-
couragement or the phrases BAll Eyes on ISIS^and BWe
are all ISIS^in Twitter posts that feature the hashtag
B#AllEyesOnISIS.^The hashtag now totals over
30,000 tweets.^Whilst Twitter has been actively
suspending many of the Isis accounts, Isis continues to
have an online presence and as this study will show, are
using this to intimidate and radicalise people.
Isis sympathisers, fighters and groups have also begun to
create multiple Twitter accounts such as the al-Itisam page
which are being used to promote the Isis brand. Furthermore,
there are a number of prominent accounts such as the
@Minbar_s, @hashtag_isis, @mghol1122, @Nnewsi,
@alfurqan2013, @raqqa98, @w_raqqa, and @ShamiWitness
accounts (see figure 4 for selection of tweets) which have trans-
formed Twitter into an Isis megaphone. Most of the accounts
have been giving an update on the groups activities and also
promoting the organisation brand, despite many of them now
being removed (Berger, 2014).
A number of the Twitter accounts that have been examined
and are used to propagate Isis have now been removed or
142 Soc (2017) 54:138149
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suspended. Indeed, out of all the Twitter accounts propagating
for Isis, the @ShamiWitness Twitter account has been one of
the most successful and active accounts with over 17,700
followers. According to a Channel 4 news investigation the
tweets, had been viewed 2 million times each month, with at
least two thirds of all foreign fighters on Twitter also following
this account. However, following a recent Channel 4 investi-
gation, the identity of @ShamiWitness was revealed and the
Indian police arrested a man named as Mehdi Masroor who is
thought to have been @ShamiWitness. Despite this, sup-
porters of the Islamic State demanded his release through the
use of the #FreeShamiWitness hashtag. The account has since
been reactivated (Channel 4 News Report, 2014).
The Research Project
This study examined the role of Isis on social media by exam-
ining two main platforms, namely Facebook and Twitter. In
doing so, this paper will be examining how, this medium is
being used to create an online space where radicalisation can
occur through online communicative technology and cyber-
space. This is particularly important as an online extremist
narrative and presence can act as an echo chamber whereby
extremist thoughts are populated, redistributed, disseminated
and reinforced. This study will show that there is a need for
government and policy makers to re-examine the role of social
media and the impact it may be having upon the online
radicalisation process.
Methodology and Findings
This study examined 100 different Facebook pages, com-
ments and posts regarding Isis and the role of the Islamic
State and examined 50 different Twitter users which led to
2050 results. Overall, the study found that whilst there was a
strong online backlash against Isis, that there too was also a
pervading sense of online propaganda and an extremist narra-
tive that was leading in some cases to the glorification of the
Tabl e 1 Offender behaviour characteristics
Type Characteristics Cases on
Twitter
Cases on
Facebook
Total N o
of Cases
Cyber Mobs Using social media platforms to create a mob mentality and urging others to fight for the Isis goal.
This is done through group posts, videos and comments of hate directing groups of Muslimsto
fight. Often personified through retweets, likes and views of specific Isis propaganda materials.
78 55 133
Loners Often done through individual posts and comments. This individual is someone who is attracted to
the Isis campaign but clearly is exposed to individual grievances and has a lone mentality.
51 65 116
Fantasists Someone using social media platforms to fantasise over the Isis movement. In particular, these
individuals have blurred the lines between reality and fiction and are making direct pleasto
fight for Isis.
45 94 139
Thrill Seekers People who are promoting Isis propaganda through videos and posts and forums. Indeed, some of
these individuals claim to be directly using the Internet for online extremist purposes. These
individuals are describing the sense of adrenaline rush they are receiving by watching and
partaking in fighting on the battlefield whether online or offline.
85 98 183
Moral Crusaders These individuals are talking about the moral duty to fight. Many of these individuals are also
constructing arguments based on ideology and theology as a means to promise people
external rewards.
140 95 235
Narcissists These people are using political, foreign policy and individual grievances as a means to whip up
a climate of revenge seeking and wanting to fight for the Isis mission and goals.
166 104 270
Identity Seekers Mostly this is users who appear to be seeking some form of identity. Primarily people searching for
some form of masculinity and therefore the Isis recruitment drive appeals to them. This applies
to males and females.
87 101 188
Tabl e 2 The main tools for propaganda. recruitment drivers, type of engagement %
Types Types of engagement No of cases
Videos Extremely dangerous and are used to show online beheadings and online media campaigns. 66
Chatrooms Using chatrooms or message forums and boards to engage with wider audiences. 21
Websites The use of visual and written material to depict Isis in a positive light. 12
Images Use of visual and written communications depicting a them vs uswar type mentality
and culture. This is also done through the use of leaflets and handbooks.
78
Web links, retweets, likes and hashtags The use of social media to reaffirm and create normalised behaviour. 96
Soc (2017) 54:138149 143
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role of Isis. With this in mind, the author created a typology of
seven offender behaviour characteristics, which helps define
and categorise those types of behaviour online. These include;
the Cyber Mobs,Loners, Fantasists, Thrill Seekers, Moral
Crusaders, Narcissists and Identity Seekers (see Table 1).
These offender behaviours are situated and divided into dif-
ferent online means of promoting Isis propaganda and hate.
This is done through videos, online merchandise, chatrooms,
forums, websites and comments (see Table 4).
The research questions in this article included:
&What, if any impact was Isis having on social media sites?
&What types of recruitment strategies are Isis using online?
&How is Isis being viewed on Facebook and Twitter?
This article used a mixed methodology as part of a wider
content analysis utilizing qualitative data gathering techniques
embedded within grounded theory. The Facebook pages and
Twitter accounts were analysed between January 2013 and
December 2014 and utilised the electronic database NVivo.
By using the software system NVivo, the author was able to
collate high frequencywords and patterns that are directly
related to Isis. Comments and all posts were then compiled
into a large word cloud. The word cloud was analysed using a
word frequency count which was created to explore core is-
sues and recurring themes around Isis on Facebook and
Twitter (see Table 2, for a full list of key terms and
frequencies that appeared).
The reason for choosing Twitter and Facebook was because
they remain important social media platforms that allow people
to stay up to date with the news of people in a way that makes
them more accessible and stay connected through the exchange
of quick and frequent comments and posts. They also through
likes, retweets and views are able to have a wide reach which
makes them easier to access and allows groups such as Isis to
maximise their publicity. By focussing on the role of Isis on
social media, I hope that this study will give us a better under-
standing of how social media sites in some cases can accelerate
the online radicalisation process. Clearly, there are drawbacks
to using and analysing data via social media sites. For instance,
there are issues encountered in relation to anonymity and public
and private posts. However, I hope this study has addressed
Fig. 4 Selection of tweets collected
Fig. 5 Selection of Facebook pages.(seehttps://www.facebook.
com/farhan.salahiron?fref=pb&hc_location=profile_browser
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Al-Furqan-Media-
Productions/1493347580908838?fref=ts https://www.facebook.
com/profile.php?id=100008534373488&fref=pb&hc_location=friends_
tab&pnref=friends.all https://www.facebook.com/profile.
php?id=100007560136851&fref=pb&hc_location=friends_tab&pnref=
friends.all https://www.oximity.com/article/Modern-Da-wa-By-Western-
Mujahideen-On-1
144 Soc (2017) 54:138149
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
SO MAKE SURE NOT TO LET THE PASSPORT GO OFF YOUR SIGHT EVEN FOR A
SECOND. EVERYONE WANTS TO GET OVER WITH THE AIRPORT FORMALITIES AND
GO HOME. SO BEING VIGILANT FOR AN EXTRA MINUTE WILL SAVE YOU A
LIFETIME OF MISERY. BEST OF LUCK IN YOUR TRAVELS.
KINDLY SEND THIS TO AS MANY OF YOUR INTENDING TRAVELERS AND FRIENDS
ACROSS THE WORLD REQUEST THEM TO CHECK THE PASSPORT AT THE
CHECKING COUNTERS AND BEFORE LEAVING THE AIRPORT.
Soc (2017) 54:138149 145
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some of those concerns with the use of electronic software, key
terms used and the overall sample size.
In order to carry out a Facebook and Twitter analysis, I
searched for outputs using the terms Syria AND Isis, ISIL
AND Islamic State, Syria AND Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and
Iraq AND IS. These searches generated over 2050 results.
These searches were then used to examine 100 Facebook
pages and 50 Twitter users. Following this, I examined each
platform to try and better understand how Isis were using both
spaces to target and radicalise young people to their cause.
Some of the most common reappearing words used to de-
scribe Isis were then examined. As noted above, whilst there
was clearly an online backlash opposing the Isis ideology,
there was also the Isis recruitment tool targeting people online.
The study also made the use of electronic software NVivo,
because it allowed the author to collate and identify com-
ments, posts and patterns that emerged. All the posts, tweets
and comments were imported into NVivo and I was able to
analyze the comments with the use of visualization tools such
as the NCapture tool, which is a web browser extension that
allowed me to quickly and easily capture web content via
social media data for further analysis.
Discussion
Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook are extremely
powerful platforms, whereby people can stay connected and
keep up to date with key news feeds and updates. Equally,
they have become popular platforms for groups like Britain
First, the English Defence League and now Isis who have used
it to create a hostile environment, whereby people can be
radicalised and targeted because of what they believe in.
This study found 1, 264 specific incidents of Isis propaganda
and hate related messages which could be construed as incit-
ing violence and actual offline physical threats.
In particular, the word cloud frequency helped the author
obtain key words that were being used to depict Isis. For
example, from the top 20 words used, there were some key
words that stood out as having direct influence over the
recent actions of Isis recruitment propaganda. They included
the words; Brothers’‘rise up,Claim’‘Victory;Haya,
Jihad,Rushand Battlefield(see Table 3for a full
breakdown of terms). What was telling was how these
words were accompanied by images, videos and texts that
were posted following high profile incidents. For instance,
after the Isis beheadings (see Figs. 4,5and 6below-word
cloud of terms).
The use of the terms rise upand victorywere also used
in relation to Muslims as a justification and call for action.
For example, a large majority of words were referenced with
accompanying text such as IS,Islamic State,Rise Upand
Lets go for Jihad. Below is a small sample of examples
found via Facebook and Twitter:
In December 2014, Runa Khan, from Luton, was arrested
and charged for inciting terrorism offences in Syria, after post-
ing a picture of a suicide vest and sending the details to an
undercover police officer. During her sentencing, the courts
held that these pictures could be intended to be used to radi-
calise people. Runa Khan argued that these pictures did not
mean she was an extremist. She stated that: BAnd when I
spoke about suicide missions, I only spoke about it because
it's a much feared war tactic, which should only be used in a
battlefield, not anywhere else.^After she was arrested and
charged Commander Richard Walton, who is the head of the
Metropolitan Policescounter terrorism unit, argued that Runa
Khan was using social media as a tool for terrorism.
Within this climate, this study has been able to assess and
propose seven types of offender characteristics who have been
engaged with Twitter and Facebook as a means to radicalise
and target communities, either through specific pages, videos
or comments and posts. These seven types are the; Cyber
Mobs,Loners, Fantasists, Thrill Seekers, Moral Crusaders,
Narcissists and Identity Seekers. This typology is intended as
a starting point for a framework around Isis on social media
(see Table 1). The majority of people involved in these acts
were Males (90%) and Females (10%) (see Table 4). Whilst, a
number of the individuals were based in the UK, there were
also a number of online users who were identified as being
from the United States; Australia; Pakistan; Indonesia; Egypt;
Germany; Canada; Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Libya (see
Fig. 7 for map of users and hotspots identified).
Indeed Lacus and Ceron have examined social analysis of
Isis and found that support for Isis was mainly from Arab-
Fig. 6 Word Cloud representing
most common reappearing words
146 Soc (2017) 54:138149
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
speaking social media users (Lucas, 2014). This included
users based in Belgium, Britain, France and the US. They also
found that overall 92% of tweets, blogs and forum comments
were hostile to the militants. Forty-seven per cent of studied
tweets and posts from Qatar, 35% from Pakistan, 31% from
Belgium and almost 24% of posts from UK and 21% from the
US were classified as being supportive of the jihadist organi-
sation compared with just under 20% in Jordan, Saudi Arabia
(19.7%) and Iraq (19.8%) (Lucas, 2014).
Interestingly, these seven types of offender behaviours are
situated across those who directly sympathise with Isis and
those people who are actually broadcasting the Isis propagan-
da machine via different locations. They include those indi-
viduals who claim to be fighting alongside Isis group mem-
bers. Moreover, as this typology has shown, a high proportion
of people fell into the thrill seekersand moral crusaders
types which does indicate that those people were going or
wanting to fight with Isis (Table 5).
Clearly, Isis has been using social media sites such as
Twitter and Facebook as propaganda tools that allow them
to send out messages, posts and updates. They have been
particularly successful at using those sites to create a them
vs usnarrative. This is amplified through retweets and con-
versations after each message is posted. Isis are using the
Internet through a range of recruitment methods, this includes
through the use of pictures, images and words. For example,
in the mapping exercise it was clear that some common words
such as brothers rise upand claim victorywere common
reappearing words for many individuals in different countries.
Furthermore, through the use of Facebook, Isis were using
merchandise as a means to sell the Isis brand and act as a
recruitment tool.
Interestingly, Isis on both Facebook and Twitter have
been viewed with mix results. In a large amount of cases
examined in this study, Isis were condemned by most
users as a brutal and oppressivegroup that did not rep-
resent Muslims and Islam. This was personified in the
#NotinMyName hashtag that was used as a means to ex-
press how Muslim communities were angry at the actions
ofIsis.However,asthisstudyhasshown,therewerealso
a number of groups and individuals that were willing to
accept the Isis narrative, that they were victims. And some
individuals cited various issues that Isis did not exist
and that they are fighting a global war.
In this study, five distinct categories were established after
analysing the different methods used by Isis online for propa-
ganda purposes. As noted previously, they included; 1)
videos; 2) chatrooms; 3) websites; 4) images and finally the
use of hashtags, retweets and likes (see Table 2) for a full
breakdown.
Conclusion
Isis tactics of propaganda, recruitment and radicalisation all
emerge within the online virtual space. The power of social
media for groups such as Isis is immense as demonstrated
when the Iraqi government blocked access to many social
media accounts, because they were being used to plan attacks.
As Isis continue to use social media sites for such purposes
there are important questions about understanding the motiva-
tions and actions of Isis fighters online. This study has shown
Tabl e 5 Country of
residence United Kingdom 20
United States 15
Australia 33
Pakistan 31
Egypt 28
Canada 15
Saudi Arabia 12
Turkey 18
Libya 22
Germany 11
Tabl e 4 Gender of
perpetrator Male 90%
Female 10%
Tabl e 3 Top20collocation
network of key words across
word cloud
Wor d s
Muslim
Islamic State
State
IS
Extreme
Fight
Terrorism
Kill
ISIL
Khalifah
Syria
Brothers Rise Up
Claim Victory
Haya
Extremists
Haya alal-Jihad
Mujaheddin
Rush to the Battlefield
Killing
Slaughter
Soc (2017) 54:138149 147
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that seven key characteristics are emerging about the types of
people who are likely to be sympathisers to the Isis narrative,
as well as those on the ground fighting for the organisation.
From the collection of data analysed it does appear that in
some cases these individuals are seeking an adrenaline rush
and are looking for excitement. This leads to different people
with various aims and views. Clearly, the situation in Syria is
developing fast and the role of the police and other agencies is
trying to keep up-to-date, arrest and prosecute people but at
the same time ensure that they understand the power of social
media for groups such as Isis.
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative
Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://
creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use,
distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appro-
priate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the
Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
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Imran Awan is an Associate Professor in Criminology and Deputy
Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City
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regularly in the media, he has submitted both written and oral evidence
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Cyberspace is published by Routledge. Imran is the Founder and Director
of the Ethnic Minority Research Network in Criminology.
Soc (2017) 54:138149 149
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... The multiplication of radicalized youth profiles in France and Europe follows the creation of the "Islamic State" on 29 June 2014 in Syria. The development of new recruitment methods based on the dissemination of radical ideology via social networks has strongly contributed to the increase in recruitment among adolescents (1)(2)(3)(4)(5). In this context, since May 2015, our teams at the Maison des Adolescents 1 (Violence of Ideas, Resources and Support in "Grand Est" region network, VIRAGE 2 network) and the child and adolescent psychiatry department of the University Hospitals of Strasbourg have accompanied 130 adolescents and young adults who have joined violent radical movements (mostly Islamic). ...
... A cut-off score of 38 suggests the presence of PTSD. 4 Dissociation can occur at the time of the traumatic exposure; this is called peritraumatic dissociation and lasts from a few hours to a few weeks after the event. ...
... Currently, exposure to propaganda videos from social networks has become one of the most frequent means of indoctrination (4,5). In these videos, content is designed to appeal to adolescents with youth-specific themes, such as camaraderie, adventure or the glorification and mystification of violence (4). ...
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Introduction Since 2014, the profiles of radicalized individuals have changed with the appearance of radical groups composed of a large proportion of adolescents. Various individual, relational, and social vulnerabilities have been identified as being involved in the radicalization process of adolescents. Among these factors, it appears that early and repeated history of personal and/or family psychotraumatism may constitute factors of vulnerability to violent radicalization. Material and Methods The clinical situation of a 17-year-old woman convicted of “links with a terrorist group (DAECH)” was recruited from the 130 radicalized young people followed by the teams of the Maison des Adolescents and the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Service of the University Hospitals of Strasbourg since May 2015. Based on the analysis of this clinical case, we present the hypothesis that post-traumatic antecedents can constitute vulnerability factors to violent radicalization, and that post-traumatic symptoms can be “used” by recruiters of radical movements at different moments of the radicalization process by reactivating post-traumatic psychic mechanisms, but also, for a smaller number of subjects, by the induction of the trauma (viewing of propaganda videos). Results We show a possible link between violent radicalization and complex psycho-traumatism with an impact of the reactivation of post-traumatic mechanisms such as (i) the activation of the autonomic nervous system and emotional dysregulation on violent acts, (ii) the activation of dissociation mechanisms (psychic sideration and post-traumatic amnesia) on indoctrination and violent acts, (iii) the activation of control mechanisms on the search for a strict framework of life and a radical ideology and (iv) relational avoidance on the processes of relational rupture and radical socialization. Thus, we highlight that the radicalization process can respond to the needs and psychic functioning of psycho-traumatized individuals (channeling tensions, being recognized and active in one's life). Discussion We discuss the central role of propaganda videos in the activation of the ANS and dissociation, and the self-perpetuating process between these two posttraumatic mechanisms. We also discuss clinical and therapeutic perspectives (therapies targeting complex psychotrauma). Conclusion Psychotrauma can promote radicalization due to vulnerability mechanisms. Treatments targeting psychotrauma may be one of the ways to get these young people out of violent radicalization.
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