Part 5: Influence and information campaigns: from Twitter to Telegram

Header IS Briefing Part 2

The theology of al-Qa’ida (AQ) and subsequently of the “Islamic State” (IS) and its ability to propagate that theology as a monopoly of truth through professional promotion and marketing material disseminated via modern communication technology has proven to be its most resilient foundation and greatest innovation. This Jihadist media activism is evident and strengthens this resilience on a daily basis with new audio-visual and written propaganda uploaded from a number of conflict zones, in numerous languages, to a wide range of online social platforms and multimedia channels.

In the West, policy makers are struggling to cope with the massive quantity and often times high quality productions issued by groups such IS who continue to draw in new recruits from western societies each month. Although slowly recognized by policy-makers that the so-called “counter narratives” are failing, as outlined in a New York Times article 2015.[1] IS has proven it’s resilience on the battlefield and the West has so far employed half-hearted “counter-narratives”, that usually neither touch on the Arabic propaganda content nor the messages conveyed by non-Arab foreign fighters who explain their reasons for joining the cause in their own words. Due to the tactical focus of both “counter-narratives” and takedowns, the U.S. and its Western allies are being drawn into open warfare online, on a battlefield chosen by their jihadist adversaries. And it is those jihadists who will thrive in the chaos that results. As outlined with Ali Fisher in the article “ISIS is Winning the Online Jihad Against the West” for The Daily Beast in October 2014 , the ideology/theology of IS, offering a coherent worldview while gaining and consolidating territory, has proven time and again to be resilient on all layers on the Internet.[2]

As of 2017, with the partial loss of territory and the de-population of Sunni urban centers in Syria and Iraq as a consequence, IS has withdrawn to the countryside, to continue the fight – and to maintain and upkeep their greatest weapon: media work as means of long-term influence and resistance.

From 2011 onwards, the main layer for Sunni jihadists online was Twitter, in addition to Facebook and YouTube, especially since the outbreak of violence in Syria. This propagation effort by the so-called “media mujahidin” has been approved and sanctioned by lmovement leaders, and now contributes to the interconnected jihadist zeitgeist.[3] For example, jihadist groups had been using Twitter to disseminate links to video content shot on the battlefield in Syria and posted for mass consumption on YouTube.[4] Since 2011, members of jihadist forums have issued media strategies that encourage the development of media mujahidin. This encouragement has been accompanied by the release of guides to using social media platforms, which often included lists of recommended accounts to follow.[5] With relatively little effort, IS was able to maintain massive networks on Twitter. This gave the media operations a whole new and unprecedented situation: releasing videos from within what is defined as “Islamic territory”, liberated from their enemies to a massive number of active or passive followers.[6]

Twitter did an excellent job in preventing IS from upkeeping their massive networks, despite the commitment and dedication of some of the media mujahidin to re-open in some cases hundreds of new accounts. This changed when Twitter became more effective at banning IS content by adjusting their spam settings, severely weakening the jihadist’ network on their platform. The degradation of IS networks on Twitter led many Western observers on Twitter to believe IS in general is in decline. However, while the ‘Twitter ship’ was sinking for IS, the online swarm simply turned to a new social media platform.

Early 2016 we witnessed a massive shift from Twitter to Telegram among IS militants and sympathizers. Until then IS was able to maintain a persistent network on Twitter, despite a massive rate of account suspensions. Because media mujahidin are highly dedicated – as much as they are on the battlefield – IS Twitter users usually reappeared on the platform using a different account – once they had been banned. From a user perspective, all you needed to be aware of was a good set of Arabic and non-Arabic key words to find IS content on Twitter, and then start following the  accounts. At the same time, the IS network on Twitter was not taken down at once, and the remaining accounts keenly promoted the new Twitter handles of those who came back.

With the massive move to Telegram, where IS now has settled in full, Twitter is used as a secondary platform to post specific – not all – content. On Telegram IS users and sympathizers are among themselves and in order to initiate new members, these have to undergo a process of vetting or simply have to know the Arabic theology after being invited to a couple channels to manually get into the deeper networks.

The community has migrated from Twitter to Telegram, yet Twitter is used by the community to stage “media raids” from Telegram. This is not about community building, rather it is about posting current event driven content on Twitter and by the time these temporary accounts are either taken down or obsolete otherwise, IS has new event driven content that is then pushed into Twitter and elsewhere from the IS core on Telegram.

[1] Mark Mazzetti and Michael R. Gordon, ISIS is Winning the Social Media War, U.S. Concludes, The New York Times, June 13, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/13/world/middleeast/isis-is-winning-message-war-us-concludes.html?_r=0

[2] Ali Fisher and Nico Prucha, ISIS is Winning the Online Jihad Against the West, The Daily Beast, October 1, 2014, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/10/01/isis-is-winning-the-online-jihad-against-the-west.html

[3] Al-Manhajiyya fi tahsil al-khibra al-i’lamiyya, Mu’assasat al-Furqan & Markaz al-Yaqin, part 1,” Markaz al-Yaqin and al-Furqan, May 2011. Two jihadist media departments from Iraq published this Arabic language handbook, part of a greater series. Jihadist activity is sanctioned through the existing core fatwa (authoritative religious ruling or decrees) based on historical scholars such as Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328), the famous Hanbali scholar, and enriched by the senior leadership of al-Qaida and now ISIS. Thus, any local jihadist, al-Qaida- or ISIS-affiliated action can fall under this umbrella approbation, thus increasing its appeal. See Prem Mahadevan, “The Glocalisation of al-Qaedaism,” Center for Security Studies, 22 March 2013.

[4] Ali Fisher and Nico Prucha, “Tweeting for the Caliphate: Twitter as the New Frontier for Jihadist Propaganda”, CTC Sentinel, June 2013, West Point.

[5] Discussed in Ali Fisher and Nico Prucha, “Jihadi Twitter Activism – Introduction”; Nico Prucha, “Online Territories of Terror – Utilizing the Internet for Jihadist Endeavors,” Orient 4 (2011). Members of the Ansar al-Mujahidin forum and Shumukh al-Islam have posted advice encouraging fellow users to develop social media profiles to disseminate their message to a wider group of users. See, for example: “The Twitter Guide: the Most Important Jihadi Users and Support Accounts for Jihad and the Mujahideen on Twitter:” http://www.shamikh1.info/vb/showthread.php?t=192509

[6] For a discussion on the themes of content and networks, including visualized Twitter IS networks:

Ali Fisher, Nico Prucha, Turning up the volume to 11 is not enough: Why counter-strategies have to target extremist clusters, Jihadica, February 9, 2015,

http://www.jihadica.com/turning-the-volume-up-to-11-is-not-enough-why-counter-strategies-have-to-target-extremist-clusters/

Ali Fisher, Nico Prucha, Turning up the volume to 11 is not enough: Networks of influence and ideological coherence, Jihadica, and March 23 2015,

http://www.jihadica.com/turning-the-volume-up-to-11-is-not-enough-part-2-networks-of-influence-and-ideological-coherence/

Explore posts in the same categories: online jihad, Social Media Sunni Extremist Activism

One Comment on “Part 5: Influence and information campaigns: from Twitter to Telegram”


  1. […] presented to western policymakers. Given the level of innovation, policy makers in the West are struggling to find a way to cope with the massive quantity and often times high quality productions issued by […]


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