While it remains to be seen whether Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen was communicating with other Islamist terrorists through social media, there’s no question that groups like ISIS are exploiting online platforms to recruit fighters, spread propaganda and inspire “lone wolf” attacks. A new study indicates that women play a crucial role in these efforts, by building social networks disseminating messages more effectively than male ISIS supporters.
The study, published in Science Magazine, identified 40,000 accounts affiliated with 170 pro-ISIS social media groups on Vkontakte, a Russian social network, and found that more than 40% of the members of these groups are female. Additionally, women formed twice as many direct connections with other ISIS members as did their male counterparts, including people in other groups, making them roughly twice as “efficient” in spreading messages throughout the network.
The article speculates that efforts to counter ISIS on social media should focus on deterring women from joining or persuading them to leave: “If women started abandoning the IS group‚ the online propaganda machine would fall apart far more quickly…”
In the U.S., recent counter-terror efforts have included purging social media platforms of ISIS supporters. Earlier this year, Twitter revealed that it has shut down over 100,000 accounts associated with ISIS as part of a larger strategy to deny the terror group access to social media for propaganda and recruitment purposes.
Previously, a study by the George Washington University Program on Extremism found the micro-blogging service was favored by Islamic State supporters in the U.S. The study analyzed the activities of 71 people arrested on charges of supporting the terror group in the last year, as well as 300 more currently moving in the terrorist online milieu.
The report noted: “American ISIS activists and sympathizers are active on a variety of platforms, from open forums like Facebook, Google+, and Tumblr to more discrete messaging applications such as Kik, Telegram, surespot, and the dark web. But Twitter is by far the platform of choice of this informal echo chamber.”