ISIS Opponents Take Aim at Its Online Presence

Groups as different as Anonymous and the U.S. government are taking the fight to ISIS on the Internet.

An Iraqi man uses a computer at an Internet cafe in Baghdad.
National Journal
Kaveh Waddell
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Kaveh Waddell
June 30, 2014, 9:34 a.m.

The Is­lam­ic State of Ir­aq and Syr­ia has taken to Twit­ter to spread its mes­sage, trum­pet bloody suc­cesses, and re­cruit po­ten­tial ji­hadists, but its so­cial-me­dia cam­paign has come un­der at­tack from forces that range from the U.S. State De­part­ment to the mys­ter­i­ous group of hack­er-act­iv­ists who call them­selves An­onym­ous.

IS­IS has main­tained a not­ably act­ive pres­ence on Twit­ter, us­ing cre­at­ive and tech-savvy tac­tics to amp­li­fy its mes­sage, main­tain­ing ac­counts that tweet in Eng­lish, Ger­man, and Rus­si­an in ad­di­tion to Ar­ab­ic, and post­ing pol­ished videos with very graph­ic ac­tion se­quences and spe­cial ef­fects straight out of a Hol­ly­wood play­book. Some of these tac­tics are tar­geted to­ward young Syr­i­ans, Ir­aqis, and oth­er Muslims in the re­gion, im­plor­ing them to join the fight to carve an Is­lam­ic state out of the Le­vant. Oth­ers, like a re­cruit­ment video that in­cludes testi­mo­ni­als in Eng­lish from IS­IS fight­ers with Aus­trali­an and Brit­ish ac­cents, are meant to at­tract sol­diers from West­ern coun­tries.

The U.S. gov­ern­ment has an an­swer to IS­IS’s re­cruit­ment cam­paign. Long be­fore Pres­id­ent Obama an­nounced he would send mil­it­ary ad­visers to Ir­aq, the State De­part­ment launched a pro­gram to en­gage ter­ror­ists on Twit­ter. A veri­fied Twit­ter ac­count called Think Again Turn Away sports the State De­part­ment’s of­fi­cial seal as its avatar (“Some truths about ter­ror­ism,” reads the ac­count’s bio), tweet­ing replies to ji­hadi pro­pa­ganda and calls to ac­tion. “Your de­luded opin­ions are in­cap­able of jus­ti­fy­ing #IS­IS’ acts of bar­bar­isms against ci­vil­ians,” read a re­cent tweet from the ac­count.

The State De­part­ment an­nounced last week that it will ex­pand the Think Again Turn Away coun­terter­ror­ism pro­gram, award­ing a con­tract worth more than half a mil­lion dol­lars to a com­pany in North­ern Vir­gin­ia to run the ac­count. Of­fi­cials at the State De­part­ment would not com­ment on how ef­fect­ive the cam­paign has been.

Mean­while, an anti-IS­IS hasht­ag, #No2IS­IS, has cropped up in Ir­aq. In an at­tempt to coun­ter­act the power­ful IS­IS pro­pa­ganda ma­chine, hun­dreds are tweet­ing their op­pos­i­tion to the group and their tac­tics — in­clud­ing Ir­aq’s Am­bas­sad­or to the U.S., Luk­man Faily.

IS­IS’s op­pon­ents are joined by a Twit­ter ac­count with the handle @wikibagh­dady, which has been re­veal­ing in­sider in­form­a­tion about IS­IS’s deal­ings for the last six months, The Daily Beast re­ports. Al­though no one knows who is be­hind the ac­count, many of its tweeted pre­dic­tions have been borne out. @wikibagh­dady ex­posed the real name of the mys­ter­i­ous lead­er of IS­IS as well as those of many on his coun­cil, in ad­di­tion to in­form­a­tion about the or­gan­iz­a­tion’s struc­ture, fin­ances, and fu­ture plans. But al­though who­ever is be­hind the handle seems to be privy to some IS­IS secrets, the mole is prob­ably not a good samar­it­an — he’s likely a “fel­low ji­hadi play­ing dirty polit­ics against mem­bers of his own co­hort,” writes The Daily Beast’s Jac­ob Siegel.

This ragtag crew wa­ging war on IS­IS’s on­line pres­ence finds an­oth­er ac­com­plice in An­onym­ous, the shad­owy net­work of hack­er-act­iv­ists that uses cy­ber­at­tacks to fur­ther its causes. An­onym­ous is plan­ning to at­tack IS­IS’s spon­sors in what will be called “Op­er­a­tion No2IS­IS,” ac­cord­ing to a For­bes re­port. “We are un­able to tar­get IS­IS be­cause they pre­dom­in­antly fight on the ground,” a source with­in An­onym­ous told For­bes. “But we can go after the people or states who fund them.”

In a con­flict that’s in large part be­ing fought over the hearts and minds of Ir­aqis, Syr­i­ans, and po­ten­tial re­cruits, IS­IS’s so­cial-me­dia prowess has frightened its en­emies and brought new con­scripts run­ning. It’s no sur­prise, then, that an un­likely band of op­pon­ents is demon­strat­ing its res­ist­ance both on the bat­tle­field and on the In­ter­net.

What We're Following See More »
Too Many Potential Enrollees Paying Obamacare Penalties Instead
2 minutes ago

One of the main reasons for the recent Obamacare premium hikes is that many potential enrollees have simply decided to pay the tax penalty for remaining uninsured, rather than pay for insurance. More than 8 million people paid the penalty in 2014, and preliminary numbers for 2015 suggest that the number approaches 6 million. "For the young and healthy who are badly needed to make the exchanges work, it is sometimes cheaper to pay the Internal Revenue Service than an insurance company charging large premiums, with huge deductibles."

Cruz: Eight Justices Could Be an Ongoing Situation
1 hours ago

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said that "there was “precedent” for a Supreme Court with fewer than nine justices—appearing to suggest that the blockade on nominee Merrick Garland could last past the election." Speaking to reporters in Colorado, Cruz said: "I would note, just recently, that Justice Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job. That’s a debate that we are going to have.”

Chaffetz Also Caves, Says He’ll Vote Trump
3 hours ago
DNC Sues RNC Over Trump’s Rigged Vote Comments
3 hours ago

The Democratic National Committee sued the Republican National Committee in U.S. District Court in New Jersey for aiding GOP nominee Donald Trump as he argues that the presidential election is "rigged." The DNC claims "that Trump's argument is designed to suppress the vote in minority communities."

Clinton Foundation Staffers Steered Biz to Bill
11 hours ago

"Two chief fundraisers for the Clinton Foundation pressed corporate donors to steer business opportunities to former President Bill Clinton as well, according to a hacked memo published Wednesday by WikiLeaks. The November 2011 memo from Douglas Band, at the time a top aide to Mr. Clinton, outlines extensive fundraising efforts that Mr. Band and a partner deployed on behalf of the Clinton Foundation and how that work sometimes translated into large speaking fees and other paid work for Mr. Clinton."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.