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
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 »
Rubio May Run for Reelection After All
1 hours ago
LGBT Amendment Sinks Energy and Water Approps
3 hours ago

The House voted down the otherwise uncontroversial Energy and Water appropriations bill Thursday after Democrats succeeded in attaching an amendment affirming LGBT job discrimination protections for military contractors. More than 40 Republicans supported the amendment, but when it came to vote on the bill, 130 Republicans joined all but six Democrats to sink the bill. Speaker Paul Ryan said Democrats voting against the bill after securing the amendment shows their intention was to scuttle the process. Democrats, however, blamed other so-called poison-pill amendments for their votes against the bill. Nonetheless, Ryan said he intends to continue the appropriations process.

UAW: Time to Unite Behind Hillary
4 hours ago

"It's about time for unity," said UAW President Dennis Williams. "We're endorsing Hillary Clinton. She's gotten 3 million more votes than Bernie, a million more votes than Donald Trump. She's our nominee." He called Sanders "a great friend of the UAW" while saying Trump "does not support the economic security of UAW families." Some 28 percent of UAW members indicated their support for Trump in an internal survey.

70,000 Have Missed American Airlines Flights This Year
4 hours ago

"Airport screening delays have caused more than 70,000 American Airlines customers and 40,000 checked bags to miss their flights this year, an executive for the airline told a U.S. congressional subcommittee on Thursday. A shortage of staff and a surge in air travelers have created a nightmare scenario for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), with airport wait times in places like Chicago stretching beyond two hours."

Trump Clinches Enough Delegates for the Nomination
6 hours ago

"Donald Trump on Thursday reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, completing an unlikely rise that has upended the political landscape and sets the stage for a bitter fall campaign. Trump was put over the top in the Associated Press delegate count by a small number of the party's unbound delegates who told the AP they would support him at the convention."