27 May 2015

Adapting to your audience: ISIS and the power of Social Media.

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As terrible and terrifying as ISIS is, that they have become social media masterminds, using the technology of social media to successful recruit can be in no doubt. 

Times and methods have changed and with it the face of terrorism. ISIS has understood that previous methods would not ignite passion in teenagers across the Western World; the fertile ground for jihadist recruitment, and as such have adapted their recruitment strategies to utilise the power of social media. 

No, we listen to people our age – young Australians, Canadians, Americans, British, French – saying that they used to be like us, and now they are partaking in the biggest revolution the world has ever seen. We watch these young Westerners tell us that this is the best way to make a change in the world, to help.

In the BBC’s documentary ‘The Islamic State’s Social Media Machine’, we meet Christiane Boudreau, mother of Damian who died fighting under the Islamic State’s flag, somewhere in Syria. In 2011, Damian called his mum from the airport and announced that he was going to the Middle-East to ‘do something good’. 

In this BBC documentary, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) says that they believe that social media isn’t enough for someone to be 100% bought into the ISIS plan and jump on a plane straight away. The RCMP says that there also has to be a strong local network that facilitates the travel to the warzone, but that social media is definitely the hook

So what are we doing about social media recruitment? 

Every week, counterterrorism officials find thousands of videos, blogs and tweets promoting ISIS. 

The governments then ask all the internet companies to remove this content. But close one Twitter account and you’ll see dozens more appear soon after. 

ISIS uses an average of 46 000 Twitter accounts to promote their message

One would wonder if this is an effective method of stopping – or at least reducing – the impact of ISIS material. Americans are fairly confident in thinking that it is given the responses they are getting from ISIS. Clearly, they ruffle terrorist feathers with their counter-messaging. That being said, Americans do admit that they are like David facing an ISIS Goliath armed with 46 000 Twitter accounts. 

The British are addressing the use of terrorist organisations using social media very different creating campaigns such as the #notinmyname video campaign featuring young British Muslims denouncing the Islamic State. 

Why are big Internet companies not taking down Isis material from online?

One question that might jump to your mind is why do massively rich companies like YouTube, Facebook or Twitter – that generate billions in revenue every year – wait for governments to ask them to take down Isis material from their websites before actually doing it? 

Google and Twitter say that they would happily take down these hashtags and videos as soon as they surfaced, but that their technology isn’t advanced. These companies say that it is extremely complex to definitely take content off the interwebs because it will most likely pop up again through new accounts or other users that have had time to share the videos or tweets.

Google explains that worldwide, 100 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. It has a fast-track system for removing videos or even entire or "channels" from YouTube, of which the Home Office is a member; but each request must be reviewed by a human.’

Come again Google? Are you trying to tell me that the multinational technology company who created the highest performing search engine in the world and the company whose gross income is greater than the GDP of 99 countries in the world cannot create some sort of antimissile technology that would take down anything Isis-related as soon as it surfaced on Internet??? I have trouble believing that. 

Having been one of the millions of people worldwide glued to their phones for news updates during 2014 Sydney Siege, I have even more trouble believing social media and other internet companies when they claim that they can’t shield us from all Isis content.

On 16 December 2014, when the Lindt Café gunman was trying to reach out to the world through his hostages’ accounts, none of his videos or tweets went viral because social media companies and the Australian police allied forces to stifle everything that was coming out of the Café. 

Social media and police did get a tremendous amount of help from the online community who practiced ‘self-censorship’, but seeing as we managed on controlling undesirable and objectively threatening content for 16 hours during the Sydney hostage crisis, what is stopping us from doing the same thing on a much larger scale? 

Although Alexandra didn’t know much about conference production before first coming across this opportunity with Akolade, she has quickly become passionate about her job. Gaining in-depth knowledge in a variety of new fields without going through exam stress? Who could ask for more? If ever you speak to Alexandra and wonder what that funny accent is, it is from Quebec, French-speaking Canada. Do not hesitate to ask Alexandra about her former life on the 47th parallel; she will be thrilled to talk to you about snow storms, skiing and -35⁰c!

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