It is well known that Islamic State have a highly sophisticated social media campaign which they use to disseminate propaganda and connect with potential recruits around the world. Female supporters of IS have drawn significant interest due to their ability to fuse savagery, empowerment and the ‘traditional’ lifestyle of a wife and mother together to create a powerful narrative of life under the Caliphate. Tweeting images of guns and death, whilst interjecting these tweets with images of kittens and food can confuse and excite the audience. It promotes conflicting yet powerful feelings which combine to fuel interest in the group.
Considering there are 316 million active monthly users on Twitter, IS accounts have access to a huge audience, many of which are young and lack digital literacy and critical thinking skills. The number of IS accounts online and the volume of tweets they dispense every day has put significant pressure on social media networks to clamp down on their social media activity. These social media sites have responded by suspending such accounts, which has to an extent limited the scope of Islamic State’s activity online. However as highlighted by J.M. Berger, suspensions do not eliminate the problem.
From my analysis of female IS accounts on Twitter it is clear that account suspensions are creating significant problems, as outlined below.
Users are openly publicising the number of times their account has been suspended, using it as a badge of honour to perhaps legitimise their dedication to the group.
Both of the users above, who support IS, have been suspended on multiple occasions for tweeting offensive IS propaganda. Yet both users publicise to their audience the number of times their account has been previously suspended. Moreover, users are attaching it to their biographical details, placing this information in a significant location for it to be viewed by their network.
This perhaps indicates that users are highlighting their account suspensions so other users will see them as legitimate followers of IS and therefore ‘follow’ them on Twitter, and thereby giving them access to their network. The suspicion which has prevailed on this network in recent months, due to fake accounts and media interest, makes this a real possibility. User legitimacy and trust on this network is fundamental. Many users of this network sporadically lock their accounts which makes it very difficult for new accounts to gain access to their network. One case in point is Umm Hussain Al-Britaniya, also known as Sally Jones, who is a British born propagandist and recruiter for IS. Sally has had her account suspended on multiple occasions but reappears on different, yet similar, usernames. Sally regularly locks her account and subsequently un-locks her accounts to give ‘shout-outs’ to specific users. Under these circumstances it is important for users to be viewed as legitimate entities, therefore these account suspensions are encouraging users to publicly reinforce their commitment to IS, so they can gain access to IS networks.
Umm Hussain Britaniya (Sally Jones) twitter account
It is equally conceivable that users publicise this information to reaffirm their own commitment to the group. Many users see suspension as a fulfilment of their duty under Islamic State.
Umm Omer Albani writes that she is sad her account is not being suspended because when it is suspended she feels as though she doing something right for IS.
Similarly Umm Jihad writes that whilst she gets tired of creating new accounts, she gets satisfaction from disrupting efforts to repress the IS network.
This suggests that account suspension is not only reaffirming commitment to Islamic State, but it is also signaling to the user that they are sharing the correct material and thus fulfilling their own objectives under IS.
It is important to understand that these networks often manipulate images to accomplish their own goals. Thus, many are using the suspension notifications they receive to reaffirm their commitment to IS.
1 Ummah 1 Leader has used the suspension notification received from Twitter as their profile picture.
Umm Amira has tweeted out a photo of her suspension notification to signal her return to the network – This tweet received 27 retweets.
Whilst account suspensions and ‘shout-outs’ does take time away from tweeting out propagandist material, it can also be said that it is reaffirming their commitment to the group and to one another.
This emphasises the group’s ability to undermine and counteract negative messaging and use it to their advantage. Promoting strength and engagement is a core duty for users on this network. Therefore, perhaps more energy needs to focus on suspending the less active accounts, those that I suspect have been set up to primarily tweet out propaganda by multiple users yet are left un-used for weeks, if not months at a time. This will enable analysts to clear away the ‘dead-weight’ IS supporters and identify the true number of IS accounts. It may also empower analysts to better track new trends and tactics used by the group, and ultimately enable social media companies to better challenge the groups presence on these networks.
To read more articles on our blog, please click here.