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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Gaza Dominates Talk In Jihadist Finance Networks; IS Still Struggles for Acceptance

Twitter users who influence the support and financing of jihadist movements in Syria have undergone a massive shift in priorities since June 1, with more and more attention shifting away from the Syrian conflict and toward Gaza. 

An analysis of the top 200 hashtags in jihadist financier social networks (methodology is defined below in more detail) showed more than twice as many references to Gaza as to Syria during the collection period around August 8 -- 32,513 hashtags mentioning Gaza by name -- compared to zero hashtags mentioning Gaza in data collected around June 1.  

Despite this, references to Syria and Iraq both increased over the two-month period, suggesting an substantially increased amount of interest in conflicts in Muslim lands, even as the users seemed to become disenchanted with almost every individual faction in Iraq and Syria. 

While hashtag references to Syria more than doubled, references to Iraq increased more than eight times. References to the Islamic State (under three different names) more than tripled, while references to Jabhat al Nusra didn't even double. 

References to al Qaeda vastly trailed references to all factions in Syria. While some of that is very probably attributable to illegality and social stigma related to supporting al Qaeda relative to the other groups, I think the data point is nevertheless noteworthy and at least partly indicative of AQ's struggle to remain relevant in a dynamically changing field. Certainly, if AQ Central had made any noteworthy news during the two-month period, it would be reflected here more strongly. 

Other charts of interest: 

References to the Islamic State continue to vastly outstrip references to all other Syrian factions. Love it or hate it, people are talking about it. 

References to the Islamic State under its chosen official name briefly closed ground with references to the group under the derogatory nickname Daash around July 24, before the gap opened up again in the August 8 collection (which includes only one day of tweets related to the U.S. bombing of IS positions in Iraq). During that two week period, IS unleashed a torrent of pictures of atrocities it had carried out in Iraq, including countless beheadings and videos of mass executions, which may account for the increase in negative references. 

Similarly, in the July 24 collection, references to IS under its proper name briefly outstripped references to Daash, a trend which also reversed itself in the ensuing two weeks. 

These results only include use of the hashtag of each group's formal name, without editorial commentary. Two IS hashtags emerged in the wake of U.S. military action in Iraq, which were not counted. If they were added to the positive references to IS, it would have resulted in a significant spike in positive references, but the comparison to past periods would not be valid since hashtags such as those referring to the announcement of the caliphate were not included in previous totals. Nevertheless, just for a sense of perspective, here's what that would look like: 

The next installment in this series should reflect more accurately whether IS is gaining sympathy or legitimacy from U.S. action against it. 

Methodology: I looked at the most recent 200 tweets from approximately 7,500 Twitter accounts that were followed by 22 prominent jihadist fundraisers on Twitter (as well as the tweets of the fundraisers themselves), analyzing a total of somewhat less than 3 million tweets for each collection period, which included a substantial amount of overlap from one period to the next. 

From those tweets, I extracted the most popular Arabic hashtags used by members of the network to refer to jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq. Two of the original seed accounts were suspended by Twitter, most recently Hajjaj al Ajmi, but there is so much overlap among the accounts that it made only a fraction of a percent of difference in the number of tweets examined. 

Buy J.M. Berger's book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam


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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