The ISIS Twitter Census

The ISIS Twitter Census: Defining and describing the population of ISIS supporters on Twitter by J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan.

This is the Brookings Institute report that I said was forthcoming in: Losing Your Right To Decide, Needlessly.

From the Executive Summary:

The Islamic State, known as ISIS or ISIL, has exploited social media, most notoriously Twitter, to send its propaganda and messaging out to the world and to draw in people vulnerable to radicalization.

By virtue of its large number of supporters and highly organized tactics, ISIS has been able to exert an outsized impact on how the world perceives it, by disseminating images of graphic violence (including the beheading of Western journalists and aid workers and more recently, the immolation of a Jordanian air force pilot), while using social media to attract new recruits and inspire lone actor attacks.

Although much ink has been spilled on the topic of ISIS activity on Twitter, very basic questions remain unanswered, including such fundamental issues as how many Twitter users support ISIS, who they are, and how many of those supporters take part in its highly organized online activities.

Previous efforts to answer these questions have relied on very small segments of the overall ISIS social network. Because of the small, cellular nature of that network, the examination of particular subsets such as foreign fighters in relatively small numbers, may create misleading conclusions.

My suggestion is that you skim the “group think” sections on ISIS and move quickly to Section 3, Methodology. That will put you into a position to evaluate the various and sundry claims about ISIS and what may or may not be supported by their methodology.

I am still looking for a metric for “successful” use of social media. So far, no luck.

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