Spiders of the Caliphate - Counter Extremism Project

May 5, 2018 - Locations are determined through the methods described in the ... In this paper, the term network is used to describe both the complete ... During the course of our research, we observed and ...... This makes these propaganda accounts accessible to everyone no matter what language is spoken. If the node ...
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Spiders of the Caliphate: Mapping the Islamic State’s Global Support Network on Facebook May 2018

By Gregory Waters and Robert Postings

A project funded by the:

Acknowledgements First and foremost, we must thank the Counter Extremism Project and their One95 grant program for funding, supporting, and publishing this research. We would also like to extend our gratitude to Christopher McNaboe and his team of researchers at the Carter Center’s Syria Conflict Mapping Project for their assistance with using Gephi. Finally, we would like to thank Kevin Chant at the University of California, Berkeley, for his work in writing and troubleshooting the script that allowed us to upload our data to Gephi. About the Authors Gregory Waters received his BA with Honors in Political Economy and Foreign Policy in the Middle East from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2016. Since then he has researched and written about the Syrian Civil War and extremist groups, primarily utilizing Syrian community Facebook pages for his projects. He has worked as a research consultant at the Counter Extremism Project since June 2017 and currently writes about Syria for the International Review and has previously been published by Bellingcat and openDemocracy. Robert Postings received his BA with Honors in History from Oxford Brookes University in 2016. He currently writes about the Islamic State for the International Review. He has written articles using analysis of IS supporters on social media to gauge their reaction to major events and studying the widespread hacking of Facebook accounts by Islamic State supporters.

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Abstract This report analyzes the strength of the Islamic State’s (IS) network on Facebook using online network measurement tools and uncovers the myriad of ways in which IS operates on Facebook. To do so, we mapped the accounts and connections between 1,000 IS-supporting Facebook profiles with links to 96 countries on every continent except Antarctica using the open-source network analysis and visualization software, Gephi. It should be noted, however, that hundreds of additional pro-IS profiles were excluded from the dataset. This is because while we were able to identify the IS supporting Facebook accounts, there was no information on those users’ locations. Therefore, this data represents only a portion of IS’s support network on the platform. Our analysis of online IS communities globally, regionally, and nationally suggests that IS’s online networks, in particular on Facebook, are growing and can be utilized to plan and direct terror attacks as well as mobilize foreign fighters for multiple areas of insurgency. Secondly, IS’s presence on Facebook is pervasive and professionalized, contrary to the tech company’s rhetoric and efforts to convince the public, policymakers, and corporate advertisers from believing otherwise. Our findings illustrate that IS has developed a structured and deliberate strategy of using Facebook to radicalize, recruit, support, and terrorize individuals around the world. According to our observations, it appears that IS utilizes a limited number of central players who work to magnify the group’s presence on the platform, and also works to strengthen its networks so that no one individual IS Facebook account (node) serves as an irreplaceable connection (edge) to other pro-IS accounts located elsewhere.

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Contents Abstract ................................................................................................................................................................................... 3 Methodology ........................................................................................................................................................................... 5 Glossary of Key Terms and Concepts..................................................................................................................................... 6 Key Data and Findings............................................