Supporters of the Islamic State group (ISIS) used at least 46,000 —
and possibly as many as 70,000 —
Twitter accounts in the last four months of 2014, a surprising new report finds.
The Brookings Institution report, "The ISIS Twitter Census,"
says it's the first to take a look at "fundamental issues" of the rabidly social media-conscious jihadists, including "how many Twitter users support ISIS, who they are, and how many of those supporters take part in its highly organized online activities."
The report, covering September through December, estimates at least 46,000 Twitter accounts were used by ISIS supporters —
with a "maximum estimate" of 70,000 accounts, though researchers said they believed "the truth is closer to the low end of the range."
The report said typical supporters were in Syria and Iraq, with one in five selecting English as their primary language when online; three quarters selected Arabic. The accounts attracted about 1,000 followers each, according to the report, "considerably higher than an ordinary Twitter user." The report estimated a group of "hyperactive users" tweeted on some 500 to 2,000 accounts.
The researchers noted the social media company yanked at least 1,000 ISIS supporter accounts during the four-month time period, and conceded there was "evidence of potentially thousands more" deletions.
Ironically, the report finds, yanking accounts can limit ISIS' social media reach, but a large-scale shutdown has the potential to isolate individuals and "increase the speed and intensity of radicalization."
"Social media companies and the U.S. government must work together to devise appropriate responses to extremism on social media," the researchers said.
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