ISIS supporters operated at least 46,000 Twitter accounts, study finds

Between 46,000 and 70,000 accounts were supportive of ISIS late last year, researchers say

Supporters of the Islamic extremist group known as ISIS operated at least 46,000 Twitter accounts at the end of last year, a new study says, underscoring the challenge facing social networks as they become powerful tools for propaganda and recruitment.

The accounts were in use between September and December, and while not all were active at the same time, the estimate is a conservative one. The actual number could be as high as 70,000, according to the study, which was commissioned by Google Ideas and published by the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

The report, one of the biggest of its kind, sought to investigate not only the scale of ISIS' presence on social media but also to provide a "demographic snapshot" of its supporters and their methods.

Much of its activity on Twitter can be attributed to a group of 500 to 2,000 hyperactive accounts that sent tweets in concentrated bursts. The accounts supportive of ISIS had an average of 1,000 followers each, the study found, many more than most ordinary Twitter users.

The report's authors recommended that social media companies and the U.S. government work together to devise a response to extremism on social media. While government intervention might be seen as a violation of free speech, it says, "in reality, social media companies currently regulate speech on their platforms without oversight."

The report comes as Twitter is stepping up its efforts to deal with all types of abuse on its network.

It suspended at least 1,000 accounts supportive of ISIS during the last four months of 2014, the study says. A recent ABC News report says Twitter suspended 2,000 ISIS accounts last week alone.

Meanwhile, supporters of ISIS have threatened Twitter's CEO, its cofounder and other employees over the company's efforts to block ISIS-related accounts.

The content posted has sometimes been graphic and violent. ISIS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, has published images and video of journalists and others being beheaded, and of a Jordanian air force pilot being burned alive. Some of its videos are posted to Google's YouTube service as well.

Asked to comment on the report, Twitter said: "We review all reported content against our rules, which prohibit unlawful use and direct, specific threats of violence against others."

ISIS accounts that tweeted the most often and had the most followers were more likely to be suspended, the report's authors wrote. They based their findings on an analysis of 20,000 Twitter accounts supportive of ISIS.

Not surprisingly, its supporters were typically located within the organization's territories in Syria and Iraq, as well as in regions contested by ISIS, the report said.

The report's lead authors were J.M. Berger, a nonresident fellow at Brookings, and Jonathan Morgan, a data scientist who runs technology and product development at CrisisNET, a repository of world crisis data.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Or
Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags social mediainternettwittersocial networkingInternet-based applications and servicesInternet service providers

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Zach Miners

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?