In recent months, foreign female jihadists on Twitter have received increased attention from analysts. The levels of anonymity which users enjoy on Twitter, has made the site a popular platform used by the sympathisers of Islamic State (IS) from all walks of life, including young women. The platform is used to showcase, amongst other things, the positive role of female jihadists, and to entice possible recruits to join IS. A prominent member of the network goes by the username Al Britaniyyaa and holds the Twitter handle @UmmKhhattab. Regular tweets which focus on life under the Islamic State are distributed from her account, including one which had a picture of a Starbucks Frappuccino. This image was titled: “The food in raqqa”
Furthermore, there is a lot of interaction between individuals on this network, often ideas are debated, or cooking recipes are shared. Ultimately this network is being used as a recruitment tool to encourage women to join Islamic State. Tweeting images of kittens and coffee make extremism appear as a normal lifestyle decision for many disaffected Muslim. Moreover, positive interactions between network users generates a sense of sisterhood among the female jihadists, which seeks to embolden disillusioned Muslims to come and live under IS rule. In addition, users of the network regularly direct tweets to pressurise men to enlist in IS. Thus, network users play a dual role of promoting the jihadist narrative, while ridiculing those who may be on the cusp of travelling to Syria or Iraq for not doing so straight away.
Therefore, while it is true that this network plays a powerful role in drawing men and women towards the extremist narrative, it is also evident that many of these accounts are not yet deeply rooted in the Jihadist narrative. For example, there is one individual who intermittently re-tweets extremist messages from other users, yet the majority of her tweets chronicle daily tasks, such as school work. In addition, this user positively interacts with, and follows celebrity accounts, including 8 accounts for the singer Justin Bieber. Thus, such activity is not symbolic of the typical jihadist account that ISIL want to promote to their female audience.
In addition, it is also evident that many individuals are drawn to this network because of the sense of community it appears to cultivate among followers. Thus, it can be argued that the absence of strong communities within the UK, particularly in cities, encourages this migration towards online communities. There are others who are drawn to the female jihadi narrative because it provides an escape from modern day life, which was highlighted in one individuals tweet on November 27th –
“I’m not cut out for the working life being a stay at home wife doesn’t look too bad right now”.
Thus, it is evident that individuals are motivated to join this network for an array of reasons, which are often superficial to the jihadist cause.
Furthermore, many of the accounts on the Umm network have an app installed into their twitter account which tracks the number of followers gained/lost, and the level of activity generated by their tweets. Accordingly, one has to question to what extent these accounts are motivated by the jihadist narrative, or encouraged by the attention generated from their profiles. Therefore, it can be argued that the volume of legitimate profiles on this network is significantly lower than is currently predicted.
However, what remains evident is that many of these users are searching for a community to which they can belong. Perhaps the absence of strong relationships offline has pushed them towards virtual communities. Therefore, maybe bigger efforts are needed to foster relations within local communities and organisations to ensure better integration and positive interaction of all tiers of society.