A new study explains how Islamic State is so good at social media
The self-declared Islamic State is often lauded for its social media savvy. Now the Brookings Institute, in partnership with Google Ideas, has published the first report examining just how prolific the extremist group truly is on Twitter's social platform.
Brookings' report follows increased pressure for Twitter and other companies, such as Facebook or Google, to monitor their social networks for activity from extremist groups. The report shows that Twitter is trying to keep pace with those demands -- but it's failing.
According to the report, Twitter has deleted more than 1,000 accounts supporting Islamic State between September and December 2014. But that's a small amount compared to the 20,000 accounts Brookings identified as supporting the extremist group on the network.
Those accounts had an average of 1,000 followers -- "considerably higher than an ordinary Twitter user" -- and were "considerably more active than non-supporting users." Yet most of Islamic State's "social media success" is attributed to a small group of hyperactive users.
Twitter is effectively playing a game of whack-the-jihadist it can't hope to win. Yet it's being asked to boost its efforts to stop Islamic State's supporters from using its network to spread propaganda, even as those same supporters threaten violence against Twitter employees.
In the meantime, the United States government has its own plans to use social media to combat Islamic State propaganda, ostensibly with the idea that if it can't silence extremist Twitter accounts, it can at least talk over them with moderate, non-violent messages.
Perhaps then Brookings could examine the government's efforts and see how they compare to Islamic State's. Until that happens, however, at least one thing is clear: the group's social media skill wasn't made up by the media. Extremists are just really, really good at Twitter.
[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]