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Saturday, September 28, 2013

I've got a little list

So you want to go hunting for jihadis on Twitter. You see an intriguing account. So you click follow and sit back to watch. Easy right?

Think twice.

When I am working my way through online extremist social networks, I am continually amazed at how many journalists and analysts I see openly following accounts that have intelligence value.

It is generally bad form to follow accounts openly and under your real name. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, you create noise in analysis. This is a surmountable problem but also an unnecessary one. Second, and more importantly, you alert Twitter users that you are interested in them.

A user who thinks he is invisible is far more valuable than a user who knows someone from the other side is watching him. Users may become more cautious, or they may move sensitive information to another account. So here are your extremely simple options:

1) Create an account under a false name and use it to follow people of interest.

2) Use Twitter's private list function to follow people of interest. This is so easy there is no excuse not to be doing it.

I get that some of these accounts are public knowledge or publicity oriented and don't care who follows them. I also get that some of you may, from time to time, have need of DM access, which entails a follow.

But based on what I have seen in my travels, I don't think that applies in many of these cases, and I think that many of you are not making discriminating judgments about this. Terrorism is a stealthy affair, and it's not always obvious which accounts are operational and which are harmless. These are extremely simple precautions which entail very little hassle. When in doubt, there is zero downside to being discreet.

This isn't just about Twitter, of course, the same concerns apply to other social media. When you follow openly -- no matter what the format -- you are going to kill good sources of information. It's harder to be discreet in other formats, like YouTube and Facebook, but it's far from impossible.

Bottom line: There's absolutely no good reason for a serious researcher to smear his or her fingerprints all over the Internet, and it skews the data in unpredictable ways. Practice good online hygiene. You'll be glad you did.

Attack of the Hygiene Fairy! Creepy 1950s... by QualityInformation

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Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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