A look at ISIS’s foothold on social media
As is often the case with issues concerning the war on terror, the current and ever-evolving conflict with ISIS is widely viewed as “Us” versus “Them.” Recently, however, the once stark line separating our enemies from our allies has become blurred.
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) is an organization that attracts support from Muslims across the world with its promise of creating a perfect society through the establishment of a “caliphate”- a state ruled by a single political and religious leader according to Islamic law.
Curiously, there has been a new movement of westernized youth choosing to drop everything and join forces with ISIS. Stories like that of Mohammed Hamzah Khan, a 19-year-old charged with trying to provide material support to Islamic State militants after he decided to travel with his two younger siblings to the Middle East to join the Islamic State, are becoming more prevalent. With an estimated 2,000 westerners in Syria, the simple questions of how and why this new phenomenon is occurring cannot help but be asked. What makes a group of westernized girls (17 yrs, 15 yrs, and 15 yrs) from Denver, Colorado suddenly becomes radicalized and voluntarily fly to Syria to take up arms and join ISIS?
Today’s youth’s fixation on social media is no secret to anyone, including and perhaps especially recruiters for ISIS. UK spy chief Robert Hannigan claims extremists use platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp to reach their target audience in a language they can understand. The use of popular hashtags, such as #Ebola or #WorldCup, to broadcast their message has allowed ISIS to maximize their recruitment potential and far surpass that of any other terrorist organization.
In contrast to groups like Al-Qaeda, ISIS recruiters have learned that showing the full extent of their brutality alienates their cause and reduces support from western youth. Instead, they display videos of beheadings that stop the moment before death, along with images of fallen soldiers in heaven to distract from the gore and justify their actions.
Due to the remarkable marketing skills of ISIS recruiters and their ability to somehow mask their brutality behind the facade of a just cause, it seems any young or uninformed mind has the possibility of being seduced by the ISIS brand. Mubin Shaikh, a former Taliban recruiter, stated that people slightly unacquainted with the religion as well as those who have converted are prime targets for recruiters and the radicalization process. Those unacquainted with the religion or the organization are ignorant of the human rights atrocities committed by ISIS, while converts are more likely to join because they are looking for a sense of belonging and the promised comradeship.
While the war on terrorism was once unanimously, albeit a little short-sightedly, defined as the Western world against the Middle East, this is no longer the case. With the exponential increase in the radicalization of western youth through the internet, it is becoming clear that the conflict with ISIS can no longer be viewed solely as a war divided by geographical lines.