Youth is a strange time period for most people. Adolescents are in a constant battle to fit in while still trying to find themselves in the process. During these years, we are so desperate to find our purpose that we become easily susceptible to outside influences. Unfortunately, these influences can often be negative and mislead young people who are just trying to find their way.
This is how ISIS recruits.
The dominance of social media in today’s society makes it no surprise that the terrorist organization has taken to the internet to enlist their new generation of recruits. As nine out of ten teenagers use social media in America alone, with 71 percent using multiple social media platforms, the World Wide Web is the perfect place for ISIS to entice adolescents with a promise of serving the “greater good.”
“The high-quality videos, the online magazines, terrorist Twitter accounts—it’s all used to target today’s young people online, in cyberspace.” —President Barack Obama, Summit on Countering Violent Extremism
While we still might find it unfathomable as to how teenagers, especially those in developed nations such as the United States and England, can identify with an organization that prides itself on violence, the Tweets that ISIS uses to lure potential members are surprisingly inviting to some young, naïve eyes, as opposed to the expected violence.
While the ISIS Twitter account definitely uses violence as a means to spread their message, such as through a live stream of the Nairobi mall attack and sending death threats to the CEO of Twitter, many of their tweets are oddly welcoming. These endearing tweets utilize trending hashtags to dominate Twitter feeds with empathetic messages on topics such as #Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter to appeal to those who feel disillusioned by their surroundings at home or the actions of their government.
This also makes Tweets from the terrorist organization difficult to find and, especially, typical to stop. Individual members of ISIS operate accounts to spread their propaganda, making it difficult for Twitter to eradicate their online presence. Also, as ISIS commandeers trending hashtags that change on a daily, or even hourly, basis, it is almost impossible for Twitter to seek out their tweets and delete them amongst a sea of tweets on the same topic. Additionally, ISIS tweets in a variety of languages, albeit primarily English and Arabic, which allows them to disguise themselves under a wide umbrella of Tweets.
Each day, approximately 90,000 pro-ISIS tweets circulate the Internet, with about 46,000 ISIS Twitter accounts present just between September to December of 2014. While these accounts are actively being deleted by Twitter, new ones are constantly being created as ISIS expands its outreach and enlists more people.
Although the rise of social media has allowed for people from different corners of the globe to communicate with one another and share negative ideas, this evolution has also produced negative effects as vulnerable teenagers are exposed to harmful ideology. While the all-encompassing, widespread nature of the internet makes this practice impossible to stop, we should be more conscious in recognizing threatening propaganda when we see it and make an increasing effort to minimize the effect this can have on young people, lost in a sea of mixed messages and conflicting connections.