Whether it’s flying drones, posting cat pictures, or shocking millions of viewers across the world by publishing gruesome and graphic video-evidence of their horrifically violent acts online, ISIS commands a technological presence beyond anything seen before.
And while AL-Qaeda may have paved the way for pop-culture infused fundamentalism, issuing jihadist comic books and English language e-zines, ISIS has been able to effectively re-invent the online crusade dubbed ‘Jihad 3.0’ by the New York Times’.
Let’s examine several of their media strategies, especially those that might be unfamiliar to most social-media users.
Perhaps one of the more unlikely media that ISIS has used to spread their propaganda is the information sharing website ‘justpaste.it’. Justpaste has been used by the ISIS to post images massacres, beheadings and executions.
Run by a 26 year old Polish man from his bedroom, traffic to the website has exploded following its discovery as an easy–to-use and unfiltered image-sharing tool.
Similar to ‘PasteBin, which came to attention after being used by members of the hactivist entity ‘Anynomous’, ‘JustPaste’ allows users a quick and easy way to upload text, but also images and video. Google analytics has estimated the site’s usage as consisting of 2,5 million unique users per month.
The website also allows anonymous posting, especially when combined with the use of TOR or Psiphon. In addition, due to its lack of graphics and functions, the website runs flawlessly on even the slowest of Internet connections, a great boon to ISIS users who lack access to high-speed Internet.
The Guardian reported that as the UK increases it’s involvement in Iraq, Justpaste.it owner Żurawek has collaborated with the Metopolitian Police and removed certain content.
‘Dawn’, short for The Dawn of Glad Tidings, is the name of a hugely popular ISIS android app. As J.M Berger described in the Atlantic in June, the propaganda app is available for free through the Google Play store. The app has permission to auto post tweets including links, hashtags, and pictures to the downloader’s account and links them to the user’s twitter feed. Dawn also has permission to „modify or delete contents of your USB storage“.
The app is advertised as a portal for news related to ‘Syria Iraq and the Islamic World’, but by signing up for an account the app also lets users tweet the same messages in a way that is sufficiently erratic for it to circumvent twitter’s spam detectors.
According to Google Play the app has already been installed between 5,000 and 10,000 times since April, and the Atlantic reported that when Mosul was captured, the service tweeted 40,000 times in just one day.
After the main ISIS account was suspended from Twitter, and JustePaste began deleting certain accounts in compliance with requests from the UK Government, the website ‘Diaspora’ has been reported as the latest online refuge for ISIS content.
The website runs as a decentralized network without a central server. In this way users have access to ‘pods’, which function as subgroups that can enforce their own policies through a third party. A pod called joindiaspora.com, run by Maxwell Salzberg, quickly became the main hub for ISIS propaganda. However, in an email to Buzzfeed, Maxwell stated that accounts which had violated the groups ‘zero-tolerance policy for violence and hate speech’, would be deleted.
As a result, the ISIS accounts quickly disappeared from there too, yet could still be spreading to other subgroups. Buzzfeed took up the issue with Diaspora’s press contact, but were told that it’s currently impossible to enforce a policy that would apply to all users of the software. The contact argued; ‘It’s almost like using Linux to control a bomb…There’s nothing the project could do against that.’‘
It’s anyone’s guess where ISIS’s online campaign will spread to next. As Governments scramble to keep up with the surge of online propaganda and jihadist content, the group has proven increasingly difficult to corner, especially online. In their nomadic posting from platform to platform, it’s hard to predict where and when they will pop up. Could an official website be the next step?
Feature image: Mujahid via Shutterstock