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How to Fight ISIS Online

Why the Islamic State Is Winning on Social Media

A mobile phone attempting to access Twitter is displayed in front of an ISIS flag in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, February 2016. Dado Ruvic / Reuters

From Twitter to Telegram, Islamic State (ISIS) sympathizers continue to set up camp on social media platforms around the world. While some of the outlets are far-reaching and transparent, others are insular and protected. The range of platforms, the diffusion of sympathizers, and the sheer volume of content make it difficult for governments and private companies to contain the online ISIS threat. To begin doing so, it is necessary to understand the external factors that have shaped ISIS’s communications strategy.

On a strategic level, ISIS is winning the war on social media with effective branding, information distribution, and agenda-setting. For example, in the wake of violent attacks, it has become commonplace for counterterrorism analysts to search for press releases claiming affiliation by Amaq News Agency. In an analysis of the ISIS manual, Media Operative, You Are a Mujahid, Too, the terrorism researcher Charlie Winter argues that the organization’s

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