Online extremism and the communities that sustain it: Detecting the ISIS supporting community on Twitter

The Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) continues to use social media as an essential element of its campaign to motivate support. On Twitter, ISIS’ unique ability to leverage unaffiliated sympathizers that simply retweet propaganda has been identified as a primary mechanism in their success in motivating both recruitment and “lone wolf” attacks. The present work explores a large community of Twitter users whose activity supports ISIS propaganda diffusion in varying degrees. Within this ISIS supporting community, we observe a diverse range of actor types, including fighters, propagandists, recruiters, religious scholars, and unaffiliated sympathizers. The interaction between these users offers unique insight into the people and narratives critical to ISIS’ sustainment. In their entirety, we refer to this diverse set of users as an online extremist community or OEC. We present Iterative Vertex Clustering and Classification (IVCC), a scalable analytic approach for OEC detection in annotated heterogeneous networks, and provide an illustrative case study of an online community of over 22,000 Twitter users whose online behavior directly advocates support for ISIS or contibutes to the group’s propaganda dissemination through retweets.

Tags: ISIS, Iterative Vertex Clustering and Classification, lone wolf, online extremist community, Twitter