West Point Report: ISIS’ Use of Social Media ‘Declined Significantly’ Since 2015

By Matthew Hrozencik | October 11, 2016 | 5:18pm EDT
(AP photo)



(CNSNews.com) - The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) use of social media to disseminate its propaganda “has declined significantly since its  highpoint in the summer of 2015,” according to a new report by Daniel Milton, director of research at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center.

"Despite releasing more than 700 products in a single month at its peak in August 2015, the overall number of official Islamic State visual media releases has declined since late 2015 to the point where less than 200 products were released in August 2016.

"What is more, the relative number of governance releases has declined over this same period of time. Assuming that the Islamic State values demonstrating its governance capabilities, this decline suggests that the group is struggling to maintain the outward appearance of a functioning state," the October 2016 report said.

Milton attributes part of of ISIS’ decline in media output to the fact that “posts on anonymous file-sharing sites and distribution accounts on Twitter are being removed in greater numbers and quicker than ever before. ...

"Increasingly, the group is relying on anonymous messaging services and posting information to the dark web," the report noted.

An analysis of "over 8,000 pieces of visual propaganda products created by official branches of the Islamic State's media organization" shows that ISIS' appeal is not based solely on its graphic violence, but also on its self-portrayal "as a functioning, expanding caliphate."

However, "geo-tagging" the propaganda showed a "fractured image [that] is likely not the one that the group would choose to show if it had the underlying functioning state that it claims to have in each of these areas."

But the report warned that despite the terror group’s decreased media output, the “availability of more secure and anonymous applications such as Telegram allow the group to continue its media activities, albeit with less public visibility... by the time most accounts or content are taken down, the damage has already been done.”

“These challenges are not insurmountable, but require that nations and companies engaged in the fight against the Islamic State continue to learn and evolve in their counterterrorism methodologies as well,” the report added.

On Monday, ISIS reportedly confirmed the death of its propaganda chief, Wa'il Adil Hasan Salman al-Fayad, also known as “Dr. Wail”.

An online statement paid tribute to al-Fayad, who was killed last month in an airstrike near Raqqah, Syria led by U.S. coalition forces. The statement referred to him by his alias, Abu Mohammed al-Furqan, but did not include the circumstances of his death.

The Pentagon previously confirmed al-Fayad’s death last month:

“On Sept.  7, coalition forces conducted a precision strike near Raqqah, Syria, that targeted and killed ’Dr. Wa'il’ also known as Wa'il Adil Hasan Salman al-Fayad, one of ISIL's most senior leaders.  He operated as the minister of Information for the terror organization and was a prominent member of its Senior Shura Council - ISIL's leadership group,” the Pentagon’s Sept. 16 statement read.

“Wa'il oversaw ISIL's production of terrorist propaganda videos showing torture and executions,” the Pentagon’s statement continued.

“He was a close associate of Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the ISIL spokesman and leader for plotting and inspiring external terror attacks. Al-Adnani was successfully struck and killed by coalition forces on Aug. 30,” it stated.

"The removal of ISIL's senior leaders degrades its ability to retain territory, and its ability to plan, finance, and direct attacks inside and outside the region," the Pentagon added.

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