ISIS and e-Terrorism: Is There Any Way To Prevent It?

ISIS and e-Terrorism: Is There Any Way To Prevent It?
By Katerina Marxtova

Terrorism has a great influence on our lives most every day. It scares people, boosts their insecurities and it seems more directed toward individuals than ever before. Why is that happening? Social media is to blame.

After the war erupted in the Middle East, the terrorist organizations based in that area had to look for an alternate way of communication with their supporters instead of direct communication. Online tools were, therefore, very convenient for them as they mobilized supporters as well as made it possible to communicate directly with the media and citizens. They can now attract new people from all around the world and introduce them to an extremist ideology.


Even though governments and activists are trying to stop this “internet diaspora”, they seem to always be one step behind. Moreover, the number of attacks not organized directly by the terrorists, but conducted individually is increasing – such as the most recent Orlando attacks. Then, Omar Mateen killed more than 50 people in the name of jihad, which was retrospectively approved by the Islamic State in an official statement. However, the event wasn’t organized by the organization and happened spontaneously, perhaps also due to the easy access of information through social media.

However, let’s take a look at how terrorists spread their voice through media. ISIS frequently uses hashtags on social media to link together an uncontrollable boon of material. This is what also happened in Orlando. ISIS used the hashtag #pulse to spread their reaction to the event on the incident through social media. These actions inevitably lead to so called moral panic among the general public.

[Tweet “”To attract supporters, ISIS organizes e-learning classes and communicates on Q&A sites.””]

In the past, ISIS also actively used hashtags to provide live tweeting from attacks conducted by them, which then served as a direct source of information to the media. With social media, terrorists are given a tool to convey the message in an unchanged form.

Understanding The Language of Terrorism

The types of messages produced by ISIS differs greatly, but even they may be sorted into a few basic categories. As Boaz Ganor sums up, there are six basic components of their communication:

  1. • Uncertainty
  2. • Vulnerability
  3. • Helplessness
  4. • Personalization
  5. • Disproportional price
  6. • Vengeance

In addition to these messages fitting into one or more of these categories, online communication can also easily pass along the ideas of terrorism to potential supporters and then it looks slightly different. To attract future supporters, ISIS organizes e-learning classes and frequently communicates on Q&A sites. Through these means, the supporters can learn how to make a bomb, how to use a gun, or how to plan an attack. In addition, these online means of communication also serve as a tool for propaganda.

To name one concrete example: In 2011 there was a regular class held every week on the Shumukh al-Islam forum, where the “students” could learn how to work with explosives. Homework was given and the site was used also to exchange experience between the supporters, who could at that time be all around the world.

[Tweet “”Which sites are generally used by the jihadists? All of the social networks that you can imagine.””]

Additionally, there are now more and more “online universities” focused on terrorism trying to educate the potential supporters. For instance, Al-Qaeda University is described as follows: “This university even has various departments: one for electronic jihad, one for jihad against oneself (in other words, to overcome one’s own inner resistance), one for the technology of explosives and others.” However, is there actually something we can do to stop these activities?

Where Can You Meetup With e-Terrorism?

Which sites are generally used by the jihadists? All of the social networks that you can imagine. By using the whole portfolio of social networks, terrorists make sure that they can reach the whole population. Marketers could actually learn from their strategy to message.

Nevertheless, the main tool to reach the public still is Twitter due to the ease of uploading posts. ISIS is now particularly eager to use graphic material in their posts to attract attention even more. They created a unique visual brand and use symbols in their visuals frequently as that makes their visuals easily distinguishable from others and supports their brand equity. Furthermore, video has now become a main tool to psychologically manipulate people and to deliver a strong message.

Can We Actually Do Anything?

Is there any way to stop e-Terrorism? Not really. We can try to take down the accounts focusing on terrorism, but this seems like a never ending struggle which can only slow down the spread of information instead of stopping it entirely. So what can be done? We might try to make the access to material as hard as possible and this way make it harder to the potential followers to find the information. This has actually been used many times before when people posted pictures of animals or other unlinked materials under the same hashtag that was simultaneously used by terrorists. That enabled them to produce thousands of posts in which it was particularly hard to find the original message.

This might not stop e-Terrorism entirely, but it might slow down the virtual mobilization. Moreover, we must still keep in mind what the initial purpose of terrorism is and that is to scare the public. Therefore, only staying calm and not spreading hatred is an efficient way to also fight terrorism.

Katerina Marxtova is a Contributing Editor for The Social Media Monthly.