Social Media and the ISIS Narrative
Everton, Sean F.
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The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has attracted the world’s attention and much of its wrath, primarily because of its rapid expansion in Iraq and Syria, its brutal treatment of religious minorities (e.g., Yazidis, Christians), and its beheadings of hostages from Western countries. At this point, it is unclear whether the group represents a global or a sectarian form of jihadism. Is it similar to al-Qaeda, which seeks to target the far enemy (i.e., Western countries such as the U.S. that some in the Muslim world believe exert a corrupting influence on Islamic countries), or is it more sectarian in that it focuses on targeting what it perceives to be the near enemies of Islam (i.e., “corrupt” Islamic nations)? In this paper we address this debate by examining ISIS’s online presence on the social media platform, Twitter, which serves as a forum for supporters to post and receive messages, images, videos, and links to websites to and from a wide-audience. The speed at which users can transmit and receive information via Twitter suggests that an analysis of ISIS-related user accounts and the key themes and concepts they disseminate can contribute to a better understanding of the group’s overall narrative. We examine ISIS’s online presence by extracting from Twitter the semantic networks of its most influential users. We find that a shift may be occurring in the ISIS narrative, from one that focuses on the near enemy to one that focuses on the far enemy. Ironically, this shift may have resulted from the actions of the U.S. and its Western allies.
White Paper. Monterey, CA: Defense Analysis Department, Naval Postgraduate School.
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