Speculation + Repetition != Evidence (ISIS)

A new EU counter-terrorism unit will tackle extremists online by Pierluigi Paganini.

From the post:

Terrorists are exploiting the web for propaganda purpose and to menace the Western infidels for this reason intelligence agencies and law enforcement need to increase their efforts to tackle any kind of extremist content

Group of terrorists and sympathizers are sharing an impressive amount of extremist content online, social media, mobile platforms, and the Deep Web offer privileged environment to share the dangerous content.

A recent research published by the Brookings Institution reported that between September and December 2014, ISIS supporters were in control of at least 46,000 accounts across the social network. The ISIS has released a manual for its militants, titled “How to Tweet Safely Without Giving out Your Location to NSA”, that explain how avoid surveillance.
…(I corrected a broken link at “propaganda.”)

The authority for “propaganda” is a link to an earlier post by the same author quoting speculation by law enforcement that ISIS members might be using Bitcoin. No evidence of either Bitcoin use or exploitation of the web for propaganda. (I suspect the exploitation is no more and possibly a good deal less than propaganda by Western governments and their sympathizers on the web.)

As far as the “…impressive amount of extremist content online, social media, mobile platforms….” no evidence is cited or referenced, the claim is simply repeated. You would think with the number of times that has been claimed, someone would have collected an archive of attributable propaganda for inspection.

Not exactly on point but Pierluigi does cite: ISIS Social Media Analysis of twitter news outlets following @Th3j35t3r Tango-Downs by Matteo G.P. Flora.

Matteo, contrary to other commentators, has at least gathered historical twitter data for more traditional analysis. I suggest that you read Matteo’s post in full. The questions it does not answer are:

  • How does ISIS use of social media compare to similarly sized groups? (One measure of success)
  • How effective is ISIS “propaganda” in securing support or recruits for its cause?

Both of those are traditional social science questions that are subject to empirical verification.

At present, at least to most Western observers, the information flow from ISIS is only a trickle, which prevents many observers from deciding whether ISIS accounts or those of Western governments are the most trustworthy. That has been due in no small part to social media providers censoring content at the behest or to curry favor with Western governments.

I can propaganda propaganda from ISIS or any other group and I extend to my readers the same assumption. Governments are the ones who think their citizens are too stupid to avoid being taken in by propaganda. That is members of government think they are smarter than their citizens. Says more about members of government than it does about their citizens.

Before I forget, here’s the image that ran with this story:


Does that look posed to you? I ask because it is after Labor Day and a number of people in the photo are wearing very clean white shoes. Are they really terrorists or intelligence operatives with no real fashion sense?

PS: If you want to practice your Arabic, the ISIS Manual on Removing Metadata.

PPS: Before I get caught up in a Brookings Institute “ISIS supporter” sweep, let me say that I’m not an ISIS supporter. But then I am not an ISIS opponent either. What happens in Iraq and Syrian should be left up to the people of Iraq and Sryia. If a Caliphate as literate and humane as we remember from history were established, it would be far preferable the collage of toady governments presently found in that part of the world. That is just an observation, not an endorsement of anyone or any group or any strategy for bringing that about. I do oppose censorship by all sides so I have no allies in Middle East discussions.

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