A new report documenting the scale of the social media strategy of Islamic State (ISIS) militants and its supporters revealed the group has more than 46,000 associated Twitter accounts.
Yet despite the staggering reach, much of the group’s social media success is the result of a relatively small group of very active users that tweet in concentrated bursts, according to the study, a collaboration between the Brookings Institution and Google Ideas.
The study, entitled The ISIS Twitter Census, collected data from September to December 2014, right around the time Twitter began to suspend accounts associated with the group en masse.
The suspensions came as ISIS militants shared graphic videos and images on the platform of brutal executions of hostages, including several western journalists and aid workers. The linked accounts also provided reports on the militants’ land grab in eastern Syria and northern Iraq, allowing unprecedented access to social media users watching from afar.
The report, which is the first of its kind, picks apart the demographics of ISIS supporters, noting that the typical supporter is located within the organization’s territories in Syria and Iraq, and also in locations contested by ISIS. This information was available in part because some ISIS-supporting Twitter accounts actually sent tweets with location metadata attached, though the overwhelming majority did not. Researchers relied instead upon the location provided by the users in their profiles, which is potentially unreliable — users can in theory post any location.
“We are reasonably certain some ISIS supporters deceptively listed locations in the United States in order to create the appearance of a homeland threat,” says the report.