The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has made great use of the Internet and online social media sites to spread its message and encourage others, particularly young people, to support the organization, to travel to the Middle East to engage in combat—fighting side-by-side with other jihadists, or to join the group by playing a supporting role—which is often the role carved out for young women who are persuaded to join ISIS. The terrorist group has even directed sympathizers to commit acts of violence wherever they are when traveling to the Middle East isn’t possible. ISIS propaganda is now more frequently aimed at Westerners and more specifically aimed at the “Millennial generation.”
Clearly, social media has proven to be an extremely valuable tool for the terrorist organization and is perfectly suited for the very audience it’s intending to target. According to Pew Research Center’s Social Networking Fact Sheet, 89% of adults aged 18 – 29 use social media” 1 Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and even YouTube, allow ISIS propaganda to reach across the globe in real time. Increasingly, ISIS’ posts to Internet sites include sophisticated, production-quality video and images that incorporate visual effects. What messages from jihadists induce young Westerners to become involved with the terrorist group? What convinces young people from Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States—many who are technically runaways, still in their teens—to leave their homelands to join ISIS on the battlefield? What risks does a home country face when its nationals communicate and establish relationships with members of ISIS? Can the jihadist social network propaganda machine be shut down, and weighing all factors, is stopping ISIS rhetoric on the Internet the best course of action? This paper explores these and other questions related to terrorist groups’ utilization of social media.