Supporters of the Islamic State group operate at least 46,000 Twitter accounts to spread its propaganda across social media, according to a new study released by the Brookings Institution.
The study, entitled “The ISIS Twitter Census,” found that there were a maximum of 70,000 accounts supporting the activities of ISIS, but estimated that the actual number of accounts was closer to the lower end of the spectrum. The group, known for its videos showing brutal acts of violence -- including the beheading of several hostages -- has been incredibly successful in using social media to spread its message, and recruit fighters from the Middle East and beyond.
Much of ISIS' success on social media can be attributed to a relatively small group of “hyperactive” users, numbering between 500 and 2,000, who tweet in concentrated bursts at high volume, the report said. This concentrated activity, more than any other factor, drives the success of ISIS’ efforts to promulgate its message on social media, the report found.
"Jihadists will exploit any kind of technology that will work to their advantage," J.M. Berger, who co-authored the report with Jonathon Morgan told the BBC. but ISIS "is much more successful than other groups".
Short, continuous bursts of activity cause hashtags to trend, resulting in third-party aggregation and tweeted content being included in search results, and helping efforts to spread the group's message wider.
The report found that typical supporters of ISIS who were active online tended to be located within territories controlled by the group in Iraq and Syria, as well as in regions contested by the group. Three-quarters of the supporters' accounts chose to tweet in Arabic -- with only one in five operating in English. Researchers also found that pro-ISIS accounts averaged about 1,000 followers each, significantly more than the average user on the platform. An October 2012 study found that the average number of followers for Twitter accounts was 208.
The report also found that suspensions of accounts linked to ISIS do have a concrete effect in limiting the reach of the group's message, but do not eliminate those activities. The report studied data compiled between September 2014 and December 2014 on a sample of 20,000 ISIS Twitter accounts.