Washington: Nearly 50,000 Twitter accounts are being run by supporters of the dreaded Islamic State terror group, a study by a prominent US think tank has said, a worrying indicator of the outfit’s reach on social media. Despite repeated attempts by Twitter to thwart the Islamic State’s threats, propaganda and recruiting by suspending accounts linked to the group, sympathisers have maintained thousands of active accounts on the social network, the study said. The users include a disciplined core group that sends messages frequently and understands how to maximise impact.
“Jihadists will exploit any kind of technology that will work to their advantage,” said J M Berger, an expert on online extremism who was the lead author of the study, which was on-based Brookings Institution and financed by Google Ideas. But the Islamic State, he said, “is much more successful than other groups”. The release of the study came as Twitter, the San Francisco-based social media giant with more than 288 million active users worldwide, has moved more aggressively to suspend accounts linked to the Islamic State, the New York Times reported.
The group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which is ensconced in parts of Syria and Iraq, has used the social network to publicise executions of prisoners, including beheadings and at least one immolation, and to espouse death, violence and hatred for all perceived enemies. Twitter’s crackdown on the group has led to death threats against the company’s leaders and employees.
Berger said the threats against Twitter reflected, to some degree, the Islamic State’s increased reliance on open social media forums, a Western invention that seems incongruous with the militants’ desire for restoring the caliphates that once ruled vast areas of the Middle East. The 92-page report found that a minimum of 46,000 Twitter accounts operate on behalf of the Islamic State. The study, titled “The ISIS Twitter Census”, was the first public attempt to measure the influence of Islamic State members or their sympathisers on social media.
“ISIS has been able to exert an outsized impact on how the world perceives it,” the study said. The report also asserted that at least 1,000 accounts supportive of the Islamic State, and possibly many more, were suspended by Twitter from September to December. Executives at Twitter, which did not provide assistance for the report, said the study had significantly underestimated the number of suspensions. They declined to comment on the report’s findings, but they did not dispute an a news report that they recently shut down 2,000 Islamic State accounts in a single week.