How ISIS Recruits Through Social Media
A team of University of Miami researchers has developed a model to identify behavioral patterns among serious online groups of ISIS supporters that could provide cyber police and other anti-terror watchdogs a roadmap to their activity and indicators when conditions are ripe for the onset of real-world attacks.
The researchers, who identified and analyzed second-by-second online records of 196 pro-ISIS groups operating during the first eight months of 2015, found that even though most of the 108,000-plus individual members of these self-organized groups probably never met, they had a striking ability to adapt and extend their online longevity, increase their size and number, reincarnate when shut down—and inspire “lone wolves” with no history of extremism to carry out horrific attacks like the nation’s deadliest mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando this week.
“It was like watching crystals forming. We were able to see how people were materializing around certain social groups; they were discussing and sharing information—all in real-time,” said Neil Johnson, a physicist in the College of Arts and Sciences who uses the laws of physics to study the collective behavior of not only particles but people. “The question is: Can there be a signal of how people are coming collectively together to do something without a proper system in place?”
The answer, according to the study, “New online ecology of adversarial aggregates: ISIS and beyond,” to be published in the journal Science on June 17, is yes. Generalizing a mathematical equation commonly used in physics and chemistry to the development and growth of ad hoc pro-ISIS groups, Johnson and his research team witnessed the daily interactions that drove online support for these groups, or “aggregates,” and how they coalesced and proliferated prior to the onset of real-world campaigns.
The researchers suggest that by concentrating just on these relatively few groups of serious followers—those that discuss operational details like routes for financing and avoiding drone strikes—cyber police and other anti-terrorist watchdogs could monitor their buildup and transitions and thwart the potential onset of a burst of violence. For full release click here.