MESOP : REPORT BBC NEWS MIDDLE EAST – Islamic State shifts to new platform after Twitter block

20-8-2014 – A sustained clampdown on the Twitter presence of Islamic State (IS) has forced the hardline jihadist group to explore less well-known social media platforms, setting up a string of accounts on the privacy-focused Diaspora.Since IS began a series of spectacular land-grabs in Iraq in June, a long list of Twitter accounts run by the group have been shut down – apparently in response to the widely-acknowledged success of its social media offensive.The Twitter squeeze reached its peak last week – coinciding with mounting international pressure on the group – when back-up IS accounts were being taken down almost as soon as they were being launched.

Diaspora graphic saying: “Spilling and burning large quantities of alcohol in the district of Sinjar” IS has used its Diaspora account for Nineveh Province to promote its activities

Appearing to give up on Twitter, IS has now launched a string of accounts on Diaspora relaying news from its various “provinces” in Iraq and Syria. The first of these started posting on 14 August, although they were not widely publicised until two days later.

Since then, the Diaspora accounts have been used to release IS statements, pictures and updates on operations. The group’s army of supporters have given these wider circulation on Twitter, proving that IS doesn’t need its own accounts there to reach a wide audience.

IS first experimented with Diaspora around a month ago, setting up accounts there for its central media wing, al-Itisam, and its multilingual media outfit, al-Hayat Media Center, after they were evicted from Twitter. Around the same time, IS launched accounts on two other marginal social media platforms – Friendica and Quitter – both of which also claim a greater emphasis on privacy and data protection than Twitter.

IS Diaspora account for Al-Hayat Media Center promoting high profile English-language video There is No Life Without Jihad Al-Hayat Media Center uses Diaspora to promote high profile foreign-language videos. –  But the IS accounts there soon suffered the same fate as on Twitter, while its presence on Diaspora has endured for nearly a month.

The relative resilience of Diaspora appears to have dictated its choice as the preferred alternative to Twitter for the new IS accounts set up in the past few days. Diaspora is a decentralised online social network, started with crowdfunding by four New York students in 2010. It relies on its users to set up communities on their own servers or “pods” using the Diaspora software.

As such, it does not operate through a central website, but through a series of interconnected sites whose members can interact with accounts on other pods. IS has chosen to set up shop on one of the most active pods, hosted in the US.

The loss of Twitter as a place where IS can publish material directly is a blow for the group. But it does not prevent it from spreading its message.The group has thousands of supporters on Twitter who are active amplifying its message, rallying support and waging psychological warfare. During the Brazil 2014 World Cup, for example, they hijacked popular football hashtags to broaden the reach of the IS message.

Example of an IS supporter on Twitter urging US to send nuclear weapons to Kurds so IS can seize them and use against NYC Twitter was used by IS supporters to mock Western efforts to aid its enemies . Their latest campaign, primarily in English, has been aimed at taunting the West – sometimes with black humour, sometimes with gruesome imagery – warning that any weapons sent to the aid the Kurds in their offensive against IS would end up in IS hands.