In a recent press interview with NBC News, President Barack Obama opined that the ISIL militants are “really good on social media.”
The Islamic State (IS), formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a Sunni jihadist (or militant) group in the Middle East.
“I review all the social media that many of these groups (use). This is increasingly the way that they’re recruiting, particularly among foreign fighters. And we need a much more effective counter-narrative,” stated Obama.
But are these terrorists really active on social media? Let’s see.
Although there are a number of online social media properties that you can use, let’s focus on the most popular ones – Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube – for this particular discussion.
When you go to Facebook, one of the major user-created Groups is “ISIS/ISIL HATE CLUB” with nearly 13,000 members. It’s a pretty innocuous Group with balanced posts. But you can argue that some of the people in this Group are communicating with each other using the Facebook messaging facility.
If this is true, Facebook will instantly remove this Group and even inform the authorities about its existence. Facebook can also know the location from where the Group is being operated. The very fact that this Group continues to exist on Facebook proves it’s not being run by the militants.
Then there is a Facebook Page titled “Islamic state.” According to Facebook, “This Page is automatically generated based on what Facebook users are interested in, and not affiliated with or endorsed by anyone associated with the topic.” There is no activity on this Page.
Another Facebook Page “ISIS / ISIL Unveiled” is under the Media / News / Publishing category. In its introduction, it says “This page will tell you the truth about the Takfiri Terrorist known as ISIS / ISIL. Who is behind them. Who give them financial support and more!” At the time of writing this article, this Page had just 259 Facebook Likes – an insignificant number. It directs you to the link: Press TV, which is a fairly comprehensive news site.
Another Page, “Muslims Unite Against ISIS – ISIL” has 2,930 members with the introduction: “Islam is a religion of peace and co-existence. Sunni, Shia, Alawi, Sufi or any other sect who share la ilaha illallah muhammadur rasulullah are one ummah!!”
You can go on and on without finding even a single Facebook page that is being used by the Islamic State (IS) for recruiting terrorists. Then how did President Obama conclude that IS is using social media for recruitment?
Now, let’s go to Twitter. A Twitter account under the name “ISIS Media Hub” @ISIS_Media_Hub exists with 7,828 Followers.
Its introduction: “News and updates from ad-Dawla al-Islāmiyya fi al-‘Iraq wa-sh-Sham. Unofficial Account Made For Documentation Only!” – Islamic State of Iraq & Sham.
It’s again an ordinary account with some news about ISIS, al-Qaeda, etc. It’s normal news that you read every day in newspapers or news sites.
Is it recruiting terrorists? I’d say, “No.” But Mr. Obama can have different opinion.
You will find that even Twitter doesn’t have any harmful IS account. But there are some useless reports involving Twitter and ISIS.
For example, a report is headlined “ISIS Is Now Threatening to Assassinate Twitter Employees.” Another screams: “Twitter Investigating Islamic State Death Threats Against Employees.”
If you read such reports carefully, you will come to know that these are totally unsubstantiated, unprofessional, unethical reports to attract readers’ eyeballs through sensational journalism, which must be discouraged and deplored at all levels.
So, are terrorists using Google’s video-sharing site YouTube? I don’t think so. YouTube also removes such videos from the site instantly with the message: “This video has been removed as a violation of YouTube’s policy on violence.” You can check out this example of a removed video.
These are some indicative examples that I have given above to suggest that IS is not using social media – not even for recruiting new terrorists, as Mr. Obama observed.
Thus, we can safely conclude that if IS is not using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, it’s not using other social networks also to an extent that could pose a serious threat.
Although I am a professional social media user, I admit I can’t be as resourceful as the President of America – Mr. Obama. If he has inputs from his social media advisers that IS is using social media extensively and also using it for recruiting terrorists, I have some questions. Naturally.
Here are my questions:
1. America is perhaps the only country perturbed by IS’ social media use while all the known social media sites are run by American companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google / YouTube. These sites are fully cooperating with the U.S. administration to remove the doubtful accounts, if there are any. Then why is Mr. Obama worried about social media use by the terrorists?
2. Are the people trying to join ISIS qualified enough to use social media? Perhaps, most of them are jobless, illiterates. So, can social media be a threat?
3. It’s also being said that somebody with the name Ahmad Abousamra is the brain behind ISIS’ social media activity. What exactly is he doing? More importantly, where is he doing all this when there is no trace of social media use by IS? Is Ahmad Abousamra running his own private social network which is not visible to all of us?
4. Now let’s assume that there are some ISIS-related social media accounts which are slightly offensive. How can you say that these are created by ISIS? Why can’t a government or other agency create a fake account to discredit ISIS? For example, how can you say with surety that the recent videos of the beheading of American journalists were distributed by ISIS? Why can’t it be done by some other agency using ISIS’ name?
The answers to the above questions can shed some light on the use of social media by IS. Any answers?
Now let me tell you something. Social media is a big bubble which can burst any time. The social media companies have been trying to build a hype around their sites to artificially increase their market values.
These sites are full of fake user profiles, they report hugely inflated usage stats which can’t be verified easily, and doing everything possible – right or wrong – for their survival. Currently, these sites are being used mainly by some idle junkies – most of them are in America.
These social media sites can’t be used for any type of targeted promotion. They are utterly useless for brands as well as IS terrorists.
But yes, digital communications in other forms can be very effective. President Obama must focus on other digital channels for the time being to monitor terrorists’ activities instead of worrying about social media. And that’s the whole point.