Combating terrorism with Twitter

For years, social media has been a source where people can connect and share information. We all share our holiday pictures or our latest activities. But what most of us don’t know, is that it’s also used to track terrorists. Previously, investigators would rush to the crime scene when a crime occurred. Nowadays, they rush to access the perpetrator’s footprint in digital space. Often, that’s where they’ll find the most crucial clues. It is proven to be particularly important to use digital tracing in suspected terrorism crimes. Investigators research different sources as social networking sites, emails and digital address books for signs of radicalisation and suspected persons.


In the ‘The ISIS Twitter Census’ report they state the ISIS use Twitter to send its propaganda and messaging to the world. They also use it to recruit people vulnerable to radicalisation. Seen their huge amount of support and highly organised tactics, they have been able to make an impact on the world, while also use Twitter to attract new recruits and in- spire lone actor attacks. At the moment, it is estimated that the ISIS control 90000 twitter accounts.

While the ISIS uses Twitter as source to spread their message and recruit new people, the platform can also expose the terrorists’ vulnerabilities and provide its enemies with a means to exploit them. With the terrorist organisation is  working hard to hide its secrets and push propaganda as fact, leakers may turn out to be an increasingly important source of information about it and other extremist groups. For instance, @wikibaghdady, he posted several tweets of information about ISIS.

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Also the hacker organisation Anonymous gets involved and are hacking ISIS twitter accounts and releasing lists with account names. Not everyone is happy with the hacking campaign of Anonymous: investigators at the Pentagon state that the revelation of the account names removes their ability to follow the ISIS and gather intelligence. This brings up a new discussion: should twitter ban the ISIS fans from twitter, or do nothing and track their moves? What do you think?

356802pb Pauline de Bruijn



2 responses to “Combating terrorism with Twitter”

  1. ivarvdlugt says :

    Hi Phauline,
    Interesting article, especially the question you point out at the end of your blog post. At the first glance, I would like seeing all the ISIS accounts offline. Whether it is blocked or hacked doesn’t matter for me.

    However, as you mentioned, intelligent officers can use the information they get from the Twitter accounts. For me the question rises; what kind of information can intelligent offices get from the Twitter account and how does that information help them? Obviously, if that is very valuable data, why does ISIS still manages these accounts? They know that intelligent officers are spying these accounts. Regarding the data they ‘capture’, all I can come up with are account, names, connections, locations, behaviour, followers and the news feed on their account. Moreover, they might can get access to the accounts and more, like access to all kind of mobile phone data. I now realize that that is actually kind much and is definitely worth keeping the accounts online.

    So, my gut feeling says; ban the accounts and stop their ‘promotional channel’. Being more realistic; intelligent officers are in the best position to judge, if they rather keep the accounts online, so be it.

  2. laurlange says :

    The whole situation of the social media active terrorists depicts one of the main problems of the internet. If you take precautions, you can be an anonymous person. The idea of identity has disappeared. People can be someone else without they need to justify their actions. The internet law is in its infancy. Due to the large size of the internet and the easy access to this world, lawmakers have not found a solution to give an identity to an internet user and also to find a way to make those users responsible for their actions.
    In my point of view, there are two kinds of terrorists active on the internet: identifiable terrorist and the anonymous terrorist. For those two types, we need to have a different strategy.
    The first one is the guy who posts his pictures and comments without any precaution. He acts like a normal social media user with one main difference that his shared information is unjustifiable and the content of the posts can have an impact on his friends and followers. Thanks to the fact he do not take precautions, secret agencies do not have a problem of identification and can react instantly. Blocking this type of terrorists on social media can be useful to avoid communication with and negative implications on friends and families.
    The second type is more problematic. I will call them anonymous propagandists. Most of the time, secret services need a lot efforts to unmask them. They are the most dangerous type, because they use well-known propaganda instrument, like advertisement movies. Block those accounts will not give the possibility to secret services, like said in the previous comment, to identify and control them.

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