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.
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.