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Conquering the West? Daesh Has Upper Hand on Twitter Over Opponents

© REUTERS / Dado RuvicA 3D plastic representation of the Twitter and Youtube logo is seen in front of a displayed ISIS flag in this photo illustration in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, February 3, 2016
A 3D plastic representation of the Twitter and Youtube logo is seen in front of a displayed ISIS flag in this photo illustration in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, February 3, 2016 - Sputnik International
A study by the RAND Corporation think tank has spotlighted that Daesh (also known as Islamic state/ISIS/ISIL) supporters are more vocal than their opponents on Twitter, appearing to be 50% more active on the microblogging site, despite being fewer in numbers by a ratio of six-to-one.

Researchers analyzed some 23 million tweets related to Daesh from about 700,000 users, between April 2014 and July 2015. Despite observing that some 471,000 accounts were critical of the violent extremist group, Daesh supporters appeared to be “more energized than their opponent counterparts.” Thus, an average sympathizer of the organization posted about 60 tweets daily, producing about 50% more content than a typical critic.

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A lexical analysis of pro-Daesh tweets has showcased that sympathizers “more actively adhere to good social media strategy by actively encouraging fellow supporters to ‘spread,’ ‘disseminate,’ and ‘link’ messages to expand their reach and impact.”

Earlier, analysts noted that Daesh has been relatively successful in recruiting Westerners, thanks to their adherence of Western-style propaganda. Daesh propagandists not only use social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Ask.fm, but also engage the tools of Western culture branding to make their propaganda more appealing.

“It’s not just that they’re just sending out all this horrible propaganda,” Phillip Lohaus, a national security expert at the American Enterprise Institute noted in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon. “It’s that they’re sending out things like poems, they’re sending out highly-polished videos, they’re sending out all kinds of essays that maybe are only tangentially related to extremists.”

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Oscar-nominated Norwegian film director Stefan Faldbakken observed that the group has been using the promotional weapons of the West against it.

"They use our whole popular culture against us and still say 'death to Western culture.' They turn it all upside down. I think that is very interesting, artistically speaking."

Daesh propaganda has borne fruit following the advent of the Syrian civil war. According to a study titled “ISIS in the West,” by the New America think tank, around 4,500 Westerners had tried to join the jihadists by 2015. The increase in “foreign fighters” could result in an extension of the Syrian civil war, and cause more Orlando-style terrorist attacks in the West, the authors noted.

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To tackle increasingly violent propaganda promulgated through social media, tech companies have tightened security rules, blocking the violent and graphic content extremists tend to post online, and suspending accounts that consistently engage in the practice. Twitter, for instance, claimed to have suspended some 125,000 Daesh-associated accounts as of February, 2016. Despite the claims, according to RAND, those supporting Daesh on the internet have found new methods to promote their particular brand of violence.

“There are people who sympathize with jihadist groups, with ISIS, that are on Twitter and that know what boundaries not to cross, and therefore can serve as a conduit to point people toward certain resources or to get out messages that are sympathetic to ISIS if they’re not necessarily inciting people to violence or things that Twitter would immediately kick them off for,” Lohaus said.

What is more important, according to Lohaus, is that the methods that Western governments apply to counter Daesh online are not effective.

The 2014 US State Department’s English-language “Think Again Turn Away” campaign to counter the ideological influence of Daesh among youth was called an “embarrassment,” as it not only failed to change the minds of Daesh followers, but also provided an enhanced platform to advocate their views.

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The UK government's anti-extremist effort, “Prevent Program,” focused on funding local authority initiatives to prevent people from joining the ranks of Daesh, is also considered a failure, as it led to “alienating Muslims in Britain” rather than to “staunching terrorism.”

According to RAND, governments must take a new approach to counter Daesh online. Given that the Daesh community is “highly fragmented and consists of different communities that care about different topics,” state agencies should more actively target specific groups in counter-messaging to disconnect them.

Another tactic that could be proved workable, the study said, is to keep the atrocities committed by extremists in the public spotlight, as Daesh “ultraviolence” has been shown to turn many away from viewing the group’s cause as positive.

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