Security Behavior of Pro-ISIS Groups on Social Media


Since the team had tracked these groups daily, researchers could observe the tactics that pro-ISIS groups use to evade authorities. They found that 15 percent of groups changed their names during the study period, and 7 percent flipped their visibility from public to members only. Another 4 percent underwent what the researchers called reincarnation. That means the group disappeared completely but popped up later under a new name and earned more than 60 percent of its original followers back.

The researchers compared these behaviors in the pro-ISIS groups to the behaviors of other social groups made up of protestors or social activists (the entire project began in 2013 with a focus on predicting periods of social unrest). The pro-ISIS groups employed more of these strategies, presumably because the groups were under more pressure to evolve as authorities sought to shut them down.

Research paper.

Posted on June 21, 2016 at 6:01 AM • 15 Comments


qwerttyJune 21, 2016 6:55 AM

Is it just me, or does this sound kinda similar to tactics used by business to avoid taxes/lawsuits/etc. ?

SurprisedJune 21, 2016 9:18 AM

What are they doing on social networks at all? Don't they know that every single act they do on social networks is FULLY AND COMPLETELY PUBLIC and wide open, as far as law enforcement and government agencies go? If you're going to do something illegal, you don't hang out in front of the police station to do it! No, changing up which days you do it in front of the police station won't help.... neither will changing your group name as you hang out there either.... Wow. Logic, guys, logic.

VJune 21, 2016 9:26 AM

@Surprised: Advertising / recruitment.

Why do prostitutes hang out on street corners? Don't they know that hanging out on street corners is FULLY AND COMPLETELY PUBLIC and wide open, as far as law enforcement and government agencies go?

MJune 21, 2016 9:31 AM

How did the researches see all this stuff? It appears that all of this information is FULLY AND COMPLETELY PUBLIC period, not just for law enforcement and government agencies.

paulJune 21, 2016 10:00 AM

Looking at those numbers (although maybe it's just the short study period) it looks as if the pro-ISIS types aren't don't much about operational security on social media at all. Lots of single-digit percentages for security-related behaviors. Comparisons with other similarly-proscribed groups?

BearJune 21, 2016 11:52 AM

The problem with OpSec for any kind of organization is that the logistics of recruiting while maintaining any kind of OpSec are almost insurmountable.

If the one who *might* be a potential recruit can't find your group, she doesn't join. If she *can* find your group, then so can your enemies.

They are on social media because if they were truly antisocial, they would not be an organization - or even a shared name - in the first place. They would be a scattering of disgruntled individuals.

rJune 21, 2016 12:20 PM


They obviously don't play by 'our' rules. By definition, in trying to establish a caliphate they are spitting on existing legal? entities and international law. In all fairness I think Jefferson said that it is our duty to break an unjust law... They are essentially doing just that but with a nazi/nationalist flair by inventing a new country/set of laws or lack thereof from our perspective.

I really don't see what's happening stateside with trump to be too much different (when democracy fails(or technically succeeds through non participation) we have all sorts of disgruntled crazies come out of the woodwork too). I think these are two aspects in which democracies fail: in participation and then in repair or prevention of a disgruntled/alienated party.

All in all, carpet bombing them is a good solution but it will never kill the ideology (see Mr. self radicalization himself Timothy McVeigh).

The internet cuts both ways.

NoSurpriseJune 21, 2016 1:00 PM

@surprised: the paper indicates that Facebook shuts them down too quickly for the researchers to take action:

We chose VKontakte for our pro-ISIS analysis because (i) pro-ISIS aggregates are shut down essentially immediately on Facebook, but not on VKontakte;
So the very limited actions we see them taking are presumably because of a not-very-hostile administration on VKontakte.

enemy of the stateJune 21, 2016 5:48 PM

oh, do you mean, all those isis groups that are established and funded by the us government? like the original isis group was?
like bin laden and the imaginary 'Al-Quaeda'? (okay, not imaginary but completely and utterly owned, controlled, and funded by the USG)

like all the false flag attacks perpetrated by the us government and
pinned on isis?

Wow. nice invisibility tactics guys.

SurprisedJune 21, 2016 6:46 PM

Wow... now I'm surprised at all the insightful answers to my rant... usually my rants just go ignored... nice.. Thanks everyone! ;)

PuppyJune 22, 2016 12:10 AM

there is ample evidence the US established and funded ISIS
the issues in Syria presently are directly beccause of the USG foreign policy and the CIA
ISIS are just another convenient scapegoat
they are a fiction
after the cold war, the USG needed another 'USSR'
ISIS is the present incarnation
so, ignore all this nonsense, recruiting and blah

it also means, whenever ISIS is blamed/takes responsiblity for something - either it never happened, or the united states 'black ops' were the ones in charge of that operation

ScalyJune 22, 2016 12:52 AM

@ enemy of the state / Puppy

you fool, we lizards control everything!

dig deeper...

Coyne TibbetsJune 22, 2016 7:24 PM

I would really like to see the flip percentages:

  • Of groups who changed their name, how many were pro-ISIS?
  • Of groups who changed their visibility from public to members only, how many were pro-ISIS?
  • Of groups that were reincarnated, how many were pro-ISIS?

The problem is that I can see a lot of bad policy coming out of this study. For example, Congress might decide the solution to such "problems" is:

  • Ban group name changes.
  • Require all groups to be public.
  • FBI investigates every group that is reincarnated.

Certainly there are millions of groups: of which they tracked 196, probably less than 0.01% of all groups.

The features the authors discuss, renaming and privacy, obviously exist for good reasons, and none of those reasons is ISIS. A while back, I allowed a personal web site to expire through carelessness; am I now to be investigated because I re-registered it?

Such policies as I describe would negatively affect many thousands of groups for the actions of (apparently) hundreds; the textbook definition of "chilling effects."

paranoia destroys yaJune 23, 2016 4:23 PM

Social media is a way for potential recruits to find ISIS.
Maybe the way to fight them is using SEO to make them harder to find and promote counter messages such as positive interpretations of the Koran.

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