Copyright: The Atlantic, October 11, 2016. With P.W. Singer.
Like most everything today, the campaign was launched with a hashtag. But instead of promoting a new album or a movie release, #AllEyesOnISIS announced the 2014 invasion of northern Iraq—a bloody takeover that still haunts global politics two years later.
Revealing a military operation via Twitter would seem a strange strategy, but it should not be surprising given the source. The self-styled Islamic State owes its existence to what the internet has become with the rise of social media—a vast chamber of online sharing and conversation and argumentation and indoctrination, echoing with billions of voices.
Social media has empowered isis recruiting, helping the group draw at least 30,000 foreign fighters, from some 100 countries, to the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. It has aided the seeding of new franchises in places ranging from Libya and Afghanistan to Nigeria and Bangladesh. It was the vehicle isis used to declare war on the United States: The execution of the American journalist James Foley was deliberately choreographed for viral distribution. And it is how the group has inspired acts of terror on five continents.
So intertwined are the Islamic State’s online propaganda and real-life operations that one can hardly be separated from the other. Asisis invaders swept across northern Iraq two years ago, they spammed Twitter with triumphal announcements of freshly conquered towns and horrific images of what had happened to those who fought back. A smartphone app that the group had created allowed fans to follow along easily at home and link their social-media accounts in solidarity, permitting isis to post automatically on their behalf. J. M. Berger, a fellow with George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, counted as many as 40,000 tweets originating from the app in a single day as black-clad militants bore down on the city of Mosul.