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ISIS Spread Its Reach Through Twitter With 46,000 Accounts

Designated terrorist groups have reportedly long used social media to communicate. Al Qaeda and the Taliban have been believed to frequent Facebook, and Hamas has been a well-known devotee of Twitter.

Now, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is thought to also be quite active on social networks. In fact, ISIS supporters are believed to have operated at least 46,000 Twitter accounts between September and December 2014, according to a new study (pdf) released this week by the Brookings Institute think tank.

ISIS “has exploited social media, most notoriously Twitter, to send its propaganda and messaging out to the world and to draw in people vulnerable to radicalization,” J.M. Berger and Jonathan Morgan, the study’s authors, wrote in the report. The group is “using social media to attract new recruits and inspire lone actor attacks,” they said.

The whole point of social media is to let people connect with each other to exchange ideas and information. And that makes sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube perfect platforms for terrorist organizations looking to spread their reach.

ISIS is known as one of the world’s most brutal terrorist groups. The group has made headlines over the past few months for recording videos of its members beheading hostages, many of whom were Western journalists and aid workers, and putting those videos on YouTube.

For its report, Brookings wanted to get to the bottom of how ISIS used Twitter and just how far it was able to cast its net on the social network. Besides pinpointing 46,000 Twitter accounts associated with ISIS supporters, the think tank was also able to locate where many of those accounts originated, including Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, United States and Egypt. While the majority of the accounts used Arabic as their primary language, one in five of the accounts designated English as their main language.

These accounts identified by Brookings had an average of roughly 1,000 followers each, which is more than the typical Twitter user. The accounts also fired off more than 50 messages per day, making them more active than the usual Twitter account. The most popular accounts tended to be the most active.

“Much of ISIS’s social media success can be attributed to a relatively small group of hyperactive users, numbering between 500 and 2,000 accounts, which tweet in concentrated bursts of high volume,” Berger and Morgan wrote. More

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