With threats mounting, an unusual alliance has begun to fight back against ISIS’s social-media war. Governments have launched offices that monitor and refute terrorist propaganda in real time. Companies have set new rules of conduct to prevent ISIS from using their products. Community activists seek to identify and reach out to youth in danger of falling under the sway of ISIS recruiters. And members of the Anonymous hacking collective hunt and destroy ISIS websites in the darkest corners of the Internet. Together, this loose coalition seeks to rob ISIS of one of its most powerful weapons: kicking it out of the very social-media ecosystem that helped give it life.
Google, Twitter, and Facebook—platforms intended for free and unfettered speech—have aggressively revised their terms of service to ban jihadist content. Google’s YouTube now deputizes some human-rights groups as “trusted flaggers” to identify ISIS content; Twitter has banned “indirect threats of violence”; Facebook proactively removes known jihadists from its service.
TWITTER ACCOUNT HUNTING
Organized groups of hacktivists hunt down and report ISIS accounts on Twitter; they claim to have eliminated as many as 110,000. They use algorithms to flag these accounts hundreds of times in rapid succession.
Because accounts can be quickly re-created, activists have written programs to search for multiples of similar-sounding Twitter handles. ISIS militants have responded with programs that automatically hide these from activists.
DISTRIBUTED DENIAL OF SERVICE (DDoS) ATTACKS
Hackers use tens of thousands of linked computers (botnets) to overwhelm ISIS websites, sometimes burning out their physical servers.
Posing as potential recruits, hackers slowly gather data about their ISIS recruiters, using cyber forensics to identify and locate specific individuals. This information is then revealed to the world and passed to local authorities. One such tip, discovered by the hacktivists of Ghost Security, helped avert a July terror attack in Tunisia.
Hackers plunge into the deep Web, beyond the reach of normal search engines, to find and eliminate ISIS recruiting centers and bitcoin donation pages. In one instance, the Ghost Security Group (not to be confused with Ghost Security) replaced an ISIS propaganda hub with an advertisement for Viagra and Prozac.