In last few months a lot has been written about the young men and women who joined the Islamic State’s fighting from different parts of the world due to influence of Social media on these young men and women. We are familiar with their biographies, pathways, backgrounds and motivations. A worldwide media projection is emerging that this Social media driven exodus of world population is the meanest and biggest problem in the present world. The “Caliphate” is going to run over the Civilised world with the help of funding driven by net world.
Here we can come to a consensus that Mid-East problem of ISIS or Daesh movement is a concern for world political equilibrium, but this cause of concern is less due to the movement’s ideological effect on world polity rather than its “area of operation’s” (AOR) proximity to the energy rich oil fields. To understand the social media’s effect on ISIS movement, we need to revisit its genesis.
Though all terrorist organisations use the propaganda machines to propagate their ideology and there by recruit the foot soldiers towards movement’s success, but Al Qaeda’s was the first to fully exploit the power of internet. It regarded itself as a global movement and therefore depended on a global communications network to reach its perceived constituents. It saw its mission as not simply terror creating activity among its foes but regarded its success towards awakening the Muslim community for restoration of Islamic world order. Its leaders regarded establishment of effective communications as a winning tool for their struggle. This reflected Al Qaeda’s unique characteristics. Despite the risks imposed by intense manhunts, its leaders communicated regularly with video and audio messages, which were posted on different websites and disseminated on the Internet. The number of websites devoted to the Al-Qaeda inspired movement had grown from a handful to reportedly thousands, although many of these were ephemeral.
The leader of ISIS got their initial training in the war field of Afghanistan during the Al-Qaeda regime. With this training and high education status of ISIS leadership such as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the background, the ISIS started Sunni dominated uprising against Shia controlled regime of Assad’s Syria and Malliki’s Iraq. The movement used the widespread reach of news over social media to their advantage by releasing threatening videos of beheadings as well as good life of people in City of Raqqa. One thing which differentiated the ISIS media from other terrorist organisations propaganda is that all the videos were of high production quality and generally showed the entirety of the gruesome act, with the hostage speaking a few words before they are killed on camera. Their glossy “Dabiq” is of very high standard as a propaganda magazine of any organisation. In fact they deployed a whole range of narratives, images and political proselytizing through various social media platforms. ISIS has brought terrorist propaganda to a new level, targeting its main audiences in nearly two dozen languages with up to 90,000 tweets every day. Playing cat-and-mouse with ISPs and software providers like YouTube and Twitter, supporters of ISIS from across the world have contributed to these various social media texts. It was seen that as quickly as platform managers close down accounts, ISIS and its supporters continually create new IDs which they then use to build new accounts and sites for propaganda.
Though the movement started with 15000-20000 Sunni Arabs of Iraq and Syrian area but it gradually grown into a formidable army of more than 100000 activists. Out of these around 17000 were foreigners from the troubled and economically backward province of Africa, Afghanistan and erstwhile CIS countries. The five countries with the largest numbers of foreign fighters in Syria are all part of the Middle East: Jordan is the single biggest contributor, followed by Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Libya. Only 2700-3000 foreign fighters are from Developed Nations of Western world.
By perusing the data available in net, it can be seen that the percentage of ‘social media driven foreign fighters from Developed Nations of Westren world’ is around 4-5% only in ISIS operation of Syria. By carrying out the demographic and social profiling of these 5% fighters, we can observe that most of those who joined terrorist groups from the United States and other western countries are middle-class, educated individuals who were enamoured by radical promises of purpose and glory and who are of lesser capability for fund mobilisation. Many of Belgium’s fighters came from the dullest of cities, where radicals have concentrated their efforts to get the recruits. Out of this 4-5% of western recruits, some 10-15% of those travelling to Syria from few Western countries are female as reckoned by Peter Neumann of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), a London-based think-tank. As many as 30 of these females may have gone to ISIS area from Sweden alone. Some hope to marry, others join all-female units to ensure that women in areas under IS control obey the strictest version of Islamic rules, such as covering up; a few take part in battles also. One more interesting fact was observed that total number of foreign Muslim fighters from UK is far more than the total number of Muslims available in the payroll of the Royal Armed Forces. Most of ISIS fighters have never held a gun, but got trained in camps once inside Syria. Also around 250 Australians are currently fighting alongside ISIS in Iraq and Syria, making the country the highest foreign per capita contributor in the ISIS campaign.
The 10% to 20% of foreign fighters availability in the conflict zone are roughly in line with participation of foreign fighters in other Muslim jihads such as Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan (In the 1980s and 2000s) and Iraq. The location chart of Tweets also substantiates this data by inferring that potential fighters and close sympathizers are more active in Tweeter for the cause of ISIS.
After seeing the above mentioned factual data of 10-20% foreign fighters availability in the conflict zone of ISIL/Syria, the Western Media’s hype of “ISIS Attracted Most Foreign Fighters Due to Their Strong Presence and Deft Use of Social Network of Free Westren World” needs a rethink. If the statistics shows that the influx of foreign fighters in Syrian conflict zone are in line with the past precedence of different Muslim conflict zone then we need to ponder about the reasons of creating such a Molehill of ‘ ISIS’s deft media handling’. To find out the cause of this ‘Molehill’ we have to look into few contemporary issues, occurred in the world in the year 2014-15.
During the month of September 2014, Israel annexed nearly 1,000 acres of the occupied West Bank; the largest land grab in 30 years. This annexation or acquisition of Land has happened in the ear of much awakened world opinion as well as looming US Presidential election under the shadow of worst US-Israel relations. Thus there was an urgent need felt that this Land annexation or acquisition should not cast its shadow on the race of US Presidential election. However in this modern era it is impossible to gag the media and specially ultra fast & Omni present social media, so it would have been a superb strategic move if the total media attention could be channelized towards a larger than life world threatening problem of Social media manipulation by ISIS, even if a perceived one.
In the later part of 2014 we saw that Saudi-US relation were under great strain due to resurgence in US-Iran relationship and the position of ambiguity of US administration’s on the future of Assad. Here one must not forget that Saudi Arabia has invested tremendous political capital trying to oust Assad from power. The Saudis have not only condemned his relentless war campaign, but they have also argued that his regime’s brutality is the main reason that ISIS has been successful in getting unprecedented success in war as well as in obtaining local support towards their cause. On the other hand, at this same time the traditional ally Saudi and US were economically moving apart due to Saudi’s concern of Shell oil production by US and Canada. Saudi’s found the projection of ‘US’s less dependency on Arab oil’ as threatening for its long time economic security. Due to worsening US-Saudi relations, an urgent need was felt in US to find favourable new area of oil production and to secure its energy needs till technology improve for economically viable Shell oil extraction process. Given the Assad’s proximity to Russia and there by impossibility of replacing his regime by a favourable /stooge regime in near future, the only option left was to annex and place a favourable/stooge administration control in the oil reach ISIS/Syrian area. However, post revelation of nonexistent WMD in Iraq and thereby falsification of the cause for Iraq attacks; it was not possible for US to intervene in oil rich ISIS/Syrian area without an emphatic cause. Thus the Devil of ‘Social media manipulation by ISIS’ emerged. It was projected that this Devil is the most threatening issue for world’s peace. Here one must not forget that the biggest cause of death in the world is not Terrorism but it is good old incident of Homicide.
Although terrorism is undoubtedly a major concern for safety and security but as per the study of Institute for Economics and Peace, USA; the global homicide rate is 13 times more than the global terrorism rate. In a sample year of 2012-14, total of 437,000 people of world population died from homicides compared to 32,685 from terrorism. This highlights that there are types of violence that result in more deaths than terrorism. In the same study it emerged that the cities with the highest homicide rates have more than double the death rate than the cities with the highest terrorism rates.
By going through above mentioned factual data, one need to analysis the root cause for projection of ‘ISIS Devil Model’ with respect to (wrt) to ISIL operative site’s proximity to Oil rich field. One must try to understand the dynamics of Oil wrt to need of national energy security of Western world. It would have been far easier for US and its ally to intervene in a lawless place which is the next big rouge thing for world order than to a place where some type of legitimate government in form of Assad exist.
At this same period, one more trend was observed in world scenario. In the near past, the new economic world order’s flag bearers were net driven companies. Particularly Facebook, Tweeter and Google were front runner among them. The combined turnover of major Social Media houses was in the tune of 23.68 billion US Dollar in the beginning of 2014. This figure was projected to reach more than 35.98 billion US Dollar in next four year. However, from the mid of period of 2014 a very disturbing trend was recorded in this industry. There was a marked decline observed in the people’s interest in most of these big Net entities.
The result of this phenomenon would have been a disaster for this media houses. It was a clear indication that Facebook led Social media conglomerate for businesses were dying. If the trend continued than these companies revenue earning capability would have been diminished a lot. So the Social Media as a collective were badly in need of a hype to regenerate the interest of polity in their web portal. At this juncture the issue of manipulation of Social Media by ISIL in form of beheading videos, numerous tweets and other various exploits, emerges. The resultant worldwide hype again brought these entities into people’s attention. The grabbing of attention ultimately insured the growth of revenue generation for these companies.
Here one must not forget that even during the period of Al Qaeda, the videos of live kills, use of tweeter and other social media manipulation was quite prevalent. The presence of British and western fighter in rank and file of Al Qaeda was always there, But this type of ‘Doomsday Hype’ was never there for the consumption of general public. In fact one can observe that there is no mass exodus of population from western developed countries to ISIS ranks & file. In fact this so called exodus of foreign fighter with respect to their countries total population is negligible.
By going through above mentioned arguments we can come to a conclusion that although the joining of ISIS by naive nationals from Developed Western Counties is a problem but it is not a catastrophe. In a recent study on ISIL’s activity on Twitter by Shiraz Maher and Joseph Carter has shown that only 50 users accounted for 20 percent of their tweets. This suggests that the organisation’s alleged influence on social networking sites might be the result of a western hype generated by the schizophrenia of our own media system, which is concerned by the threat of terrorism but simultaneously fascinated by a mediated violence that can be easily accessed via every portable device and consumed at home on HDTV screens. There was always a precedent of joining the Islamic Jihad by the Muslim population of Western world. Couple this with the vested interest of few Movers & Shakers of world order, we will be able to uncover the truth behind the myth of “Social media driven exodus of world population is the meanest and biggest problem in the present world and Caliphate is going to run over the Civilized world with the help of funding driven by net world”.
However one must not forget that winning the online war is essential for combating public perception of the ISIS. It would mean limiting their funding, their recruitment numbers and their power. But more focus should be on winning in the real world. After the killing or seriously maiming Junaid Hussain, Mohammed Emwazi, Abousamra, Denis Cuspert and other unnamed media operator individuals of ISIS in numerous airstrikes; there are signs that ISIS’s much vaunted media machine has declined over the past half year.
Social media will always exist, primarily for its entertainment value. There may be some exceptions, and tools like Twitter which are great for networking and news, but social media is primarily ‘SOCIAL’. Any Governmental effort will produce little information which is entertaining to audiences susceptible to ISIS propaganda. Because social media is social, it is social connections that prove most effective in persuasion. The key here is to make sure that people are not ostracized to the point of seeking comfort from an ISIS recruiter. By social profiling these ISIS foreign fighters one can observe that the recruits are often young, sometimes disillusioned teenagers trying to find purpose and make their mark. For many, it boils down to a lack of a sense of identity or belonging.
So if ISIS media exploitation is not a ‘GODZILA’ than what to do with it? By going through the available option, one can either try to block as many as of these accounts and create websites of counter propaganda so that people can be de-radicalised. But there is a inherent flaw in this school of thought because of by nature Internet is an unbound entity. Which means for each closed account ten new account can be created from anywhere in the world in record time. Real time account blocking is not possible. Also one can put as much propaganda in the favourable sights but target audience cannot be compelled to click on government created content. In the world of social media, any government has no more powerful voice than a single person operating a twitter account. Everyone is on an equal playing field in a social network arena.
The other option is the use of subversion. Instead of closing the account, the Net ID can be cloned by the government intelligence agencies and subsequently warn ISIS that targeted foreign nationals who have joined ISIS are really agent of government intelligence agencies whose mission is to leave tiny locator beacons in ISIS camps to mark them for drone attacks. Intelligence agencies can go even further and do a ‘Forrest Gump’ on recruits, thereby sowing a seed of mistrust in the rank and file of ISIS. Also fake ISIS social media accounts can be used as bait for foreign fighters in their respective countries who seek to join ISIS. Once contacted, the individuals in question can then be arrested and prosecuted for material support to a foreign terrorist organisation. We can also use these Tweets to find out their location by GPS identification method.
This GPS tagged series of such tweets can give us target for effective drone attack. In a nut shell; instead of fearing the ISIS, we must use every weapon at our disposal to put bigoted ISIS down like a frenzied animal, and this includes the psychological warfare tactics. The basic idea is to use social media for fomenting distrust among ISIS personnel and thereby leading the organisation for self destruction or weakening to a great extent.