Mehdi Masroor Biswas, a Bangalore-based engineer, was arrested last year for operating the most influential pro-Islamic State Twitter account, @ShamiWitness, with over 17,700 followers (Sabin 2014). Tweets from the account contained extremist propaganda, including footage of executions, information for would-be recruits and messages praising fighters who have been killed as martyrs (Burke 2014).
The power of social media has been harnessed by extremist and terrorist groups to spread poisonous propaganda and influence mass thinking (‘Study demonstrates’ 2014). According to counter-terrorist expert Richard Barret (cited in Ashford 2015), social media is the most powerful cyber tool used by terror groups, posing significant national security and public safety risks.
With ISIS controlling as many as 90,000 Twitter accounts worldwide, the global, distributed network ecology of the Internet has become dangerous. This is evident in Mehdi’s social media propaganda which attracted troubled souls around the world to the terrorist cause and abetted ISIL in its agenda to wage war against Asiatic powers (Sabin 2014).
At the same time, the walled gardens of social media are also creating echo chambers of dangerous insularity. The social network of ISIS supporters on Twitter is becoming more insular, with like-minded users following each other and becoming less exposed to outside, potentially deradicalising, influences (Berger 2015).
In this way, just as the online distribution networks of extremist groups pose significant dangers due to their outreach capabilities, social media platforms are also enabling people to fragment themselves in self-selecting groups of the politically-liked minded. Such polarisation and extremism facilitated by the narrowcasting feature of the Internet forces us to reconsider the revolutionary role of social media.
Perhaps governments should focus on creating a counter-narrative to offset ISIS propaganda via social media, promoting liberty and human dignity as an alternative to oppression, fear and terror.
Ashford, W 2015, ‘Social media the main cyber terror threat facing the UK, says former MI6 officer’, Computer Weekly, 16 October, accessed 18 October 2015, <http://www.computerweekly.com/news/4500255638/Social-media-the-main-cyber-terror-threat-facing-the-UK-says-former-MI6-officer>.
Berger, JM 2015, ‘Taming ISIS on Twitter: More than a game of whack-a-mole’, CNN, 2 April, accessed 18 October 2015, <http://edition.cnn.com/2015/03/13/opinions/isis-twitter-crackdown/>.
Burke, J 2014, ‘Indian police arrest owner of pro-Islamic State Twitter account’, Guardian, 13 December, accessed 18 October 2015, <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/13/india-isis-twitter-mehdi-masroor-biswas-shamiwitness>.
Sabin, L 2014, ‘Indian police arrest man allegedly behind pro-Isis Twitter account’, Independent, 13 December, accessed 18 October 2015, <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/indian-police-arrest-man-allegedly-behind-pro-isis-twitter-account-9922638.html>.
‘Study demonstrates the power of social media for terror propaganda’ 2014, Phys.org, 2 October, accessed 18 October 2015, <http://phys.org/news/2014-10-power-social-media-terror-propaganda.html>.