As much of a threat as al-Qaeda has been in the past few decades, they’ve never gotten over the phase of cave dwelling and using cheap camcorders to publish their beheadings. Unfortunately, if you want to get people’s attention nowadays, you have to do it in 140 characters or less, and your videos must have the option to skip the ad before it.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, commonly referred to as ISIS, is becoming the center of attention because of their ability to do what so many marketing companies are struggling to do — market their product through social media. The same sites you use to complain about biased refs in football and stand on your soapbox for whatever activism is going on that week are now being used to recruit terrorists.
Their attempts to reach out to the youth of the world goes as far as to draw on quotes from TV dramas and popular video games to use in their videos. They use tools like YouTube and Soundcloud to release reports and reach a wider audience. Every time their Twitter account gets suspended, they open a new one and start all over. They use infographics, have an annual publication, and post videos in a variety of languages. This new batch of terrorists has such a firm grasp on social media that the Department of State (DOS) has a hard time keeping up with it all.
Using careful phrasing and effective trigger words, ISIS is able to portray themselves as a group that vows vengeance for the oppressed Muslim groups and swears to seek justice against its oppressors, buying them a bit of support from people who would be interested in joining.
Using the hashtag #thinkagainturnaway, the DOS has been launching a Twitter war with ISIS recruiters in a way that would make the Drake Bell / Justin Bieber flame war seem trivial. Counterterrorism now comes in 140 characters or less. God bless America.
The worst part is that when they finally release the video of the beheadings, news sources like CNN rush to be the first to put it online so everyone can see. The virality of the content is through the roof, because there’s always a fringe group of people who are curious enough to want to see the beheadings for themselves.
Our elders like to complain that too much social media will destroy our generation’s ability to communicate with one another, but when it’s used to find potential terrorists around the world with little to no effort, it raises a whole new range of concerns that would make that aunt of yours scan through your recent Facebook statuses and find that one questionable post.
Much still remains to be seen about how credible the ISIS threat is, but one thing is for certain, they’ve really got a grasp on 21st century cyber warfare, and that is as scary as it gets.