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.
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.”
"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.
“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.
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.