Social Advocacy & Politics: ISIS Takes Control of Your Twitter Account

Alan Rosenblatt Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy, turner4D

Posted on June 24th 2014

Social Advocacy & Politics: ISIS Takes Control of Your Twitter Account

While most of the media are focusing on ISIS’s use of social media to post gruesome pictures and slick videos, The Atlantic took a deeper dive into how ISIS is gaming Twitter. It appears that ISIS is following several of the strategies and tactic I have laid out in previous posts, here and elsewhere (I am not claiming they read me rather that ISIS is paying attention to best practices that have been developing for many years).

For example, ISIS understands that it only takes a handful of tweeters to steal a hashtag. Thus, they initially assembled a group of a couple hundred tweeters who have allowed ISIS to tweet simultaneously through their accounts.

ISIS understands that their message must show up at the top of searches and trending topics, so that it remains front and center at all times. And ISIS understands that riding the wave of trending topics (such as the World Cup) gets them more exposure.

What I find most interesting is how ISIS has developed an app that allows them to tweet out over anyone who installs the app’s account. And though only a couple hundred people initially installed the app, it was enough to push ISIS messages high into the trending topics at will. The app has now been installed by thousands, giving ISIS an even louder megaphone.

The app goes far beyond its ability to send tweets via your Twitter account. It also has the ability to modify and delete files from your USB storage device, see what wifi network you are connected to and launch automatically when you start your program. In other words, ISIS systems administrators can access and control a lot of what your computer does if you install the app. It is very invasive, indicating just how committed to ISIS’s cause those installing the app truly are.

ISIS also understands that bursts of tweets conveying their message create big splashes without pushing the envelope too far. If they pushed out a constant stream of messages, people would start to unsubscribe from people using ISIS’s app, unraveling its impact. But with controlled bursts ever two hours or so, they are able to create buzz without scaring people off.

Bursts of Subscriber Tweets via ISIS's App

All this is to say that when you look beyond the pictures and videos, you see that ISIS is doing its homework. It understands how to leverage Twitter at a very deep level. And it will take a concerted counter-effort to displace ISIS messaging across the network.

The world must step up and flood Twitter with counter messaging to ISIS. We must be coordinated and our effort must be sustained. Governments, media and NGO’s must help lead the charge. We can’t shut ISIS down (even if their accounts get suspended, they can launch new ones and still drive their app), so we have to overwhelm them.


Alan Rosenblatt

Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy, turner4D

Alan Rosenblatt, Ph.D. is a social media and online advocacy strategist, professor & thought leader. He is Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy at turner 4D (formerly Turner Strategies), the co-founder and host of the Internet Advocacy Roundtable; and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins, American, (Georgetown and Gonzaga Universities), where he teaches courses on internet politics. He was Associate Director for Online Advocacy at the Center for American Progress/CAP Action Fund from 2007-2013, where he created and directed the Center’s social media program, as well as Ombudsmen and co-founder at Take Action News. Alan taught the world’s first internet politics course ever at George Mason University in 1995. He founded the Internet Advocacy Roundtable in 2005; blogs at,, and occasionally/previously at,,; serves on’s board of directors and Social Media Today’s Advisory Board; In 2008, he was a fellow at George Washington University’s Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet; and is a co-founder of  Alan has a Ph.D. in Political Science from American University, an M.A. in Political Science from Boston College and a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy from Tufts University. Find him on Twitter and across social media at @DrDigiPol.

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Posted on June 24th 2014 at 11:43AM


How does the counter messaging work without doing more harm than good?

Do you have any suggestions. tactics? #hashtags?

Posted on June 25th 2014 at 9:24AM

The key is to jump on the same hashtags ISIS is using. The countermessage might be calling them out for brutality and pushing alternative ways to resolve conflict. We can't expect social media to stop ISIS aggression, but we can offer a different vision to move the global audience away from ISIS's vision.