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Fighting ISIS on the Digital Battlefield


ISIS in social media.

Countering the use of the internet for terrorist purposes is vital in the effort to defeat ISIS.

Countering the use of the internet for terrorist purposes is vital in the effort to defeat ISIS.

The terror group has communicators around the world who spend their days at keyboards interacting with would-be terrorists, feeding recruits information on how to develop local networks or carry out attacks in their own countries.

Dr. Haroon Ullah, a member of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff, wrote in a recent blogpost that “No longer is ISIS wooing people primarily to Syria and Iraq, but increasingly to the ‘Digital Caliphate.’ As ISIS loses more ground on the physical battlefield, it is ensuring it can maintain influence in the battlefield of ideas.”

ISIS spokespeople are using the dark web and encrypted applications to communicate with individual sympathetic users. The dark web is an often preferred platform for terrorist groups because the technology makes it difficult to navigate, allows for full encryption, and can make some accounts nearly impossible to access.

But the U.S. government, the Global Coalition, and the private sector are making it increasingly difficult for ISIS to spread its poisonous ideology to vulnerable audiences. For example, Twitter has suspended more than 635,000 ISIS-related accounts that have been shown to abuse their platform between mid-2015 and the end of 2016.

The U.S. government is also working to employ a range of new analytic tools, and working with allies to prevent further online recruitment and protect the homeland. At the same time, the Global Coalition’s Twitter accounts in Arabic, French, and English continue to increase their number of followers.

The good news is counter-ISIS content is now more prevalent online, and pro-ISIS content is declining in open forum social media channels, said Dr. Ullah. ISIS is increasingly struggling in the face of a more organized and sophisticated set of initiatives by the Global Coalition.

As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson outlined at the recent Global Coalition Ministerial, “We must break ISIS’s ability to spread its message and recruit new followers online. A ‘digital caliphate’ must not flourish in the place of a physical one.” He added, “We must fight ISIS online as aggressively as we would on the ground.”

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