Propaganda has always been an important tool of war. Now terror group ISIS is showing how effectively it can be used to recruit young people from western countries, and strike fear among opponents in Iraq and Syria.
The Islamic State—also know as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS- has a sophisticated social media strategy that uses high definition video, and hashtags. Gone are the days of grainy videos where Bin Laden or Al Zawahiri would broadcast messages from a cave. Unlike previous terror organizations that sought to be insular, ISIS has actively reached out for more followers who believe in its savage interpretation of Islam.
ISIS's social media posts don't come from a central feed, making it much harder for Twitter or Facebook to shut it down. Individual accounts keep popping up with messages that ISIS wants to spread, be it the gruesome beheading of James Foley or mass executions. ISIS also keeps its target audience in mind and tailors its message accordingly.
For recruiting young people, it makes slick videos to portray fighting as cool and manly. This has worked, as ISIS has grown to about 30,000 fighters who have come from the United States, Britain and Australia, among others.
More dangerous is its technology called "The Dawn of Glad Tidings". It asks for users' consent to allow ISIS to post to their Twitter and Facebook accounts. It is smart enough to avoid Twitter's spam detector by spacing out its posts. The content that's posted in this manner is usually meant to strike fear among rival forces and local governments and gain admiration among jihadist groups in the Middle East.
Some days stand out. One such day was when ISIS captured Mosul, Iraq's second largest city. To make sure the message got across to the world, 40,000 tweets were sent out in a single day from multiple accounts.
Twitter has closed many accounts that ISIS was using, but that hasn't helped much as a new one pops up soon after. For both armies and social media platforms, ISIS has been tough to beat.