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News, documents and analysis on violent extremism

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

IS closes in on JN in hashtag battle, but attention is divided

The Islamic State made some progress in closing the legitimacy gap with Jabhat al Nusra, according to the latest analysis of hashtags used by a social network connected to global jihadist financiers, but the network's overall focus has declined considerably in recent weeks.

For the last post in this series, click here.

Overall, hashtags referencing both Jabhat al Nusra and the Islamic State by name declined notably. This appears to be related to declining interest from the financier community, rather than a decline in overall activity in the network, which remained about the same.

The chart below shows the distribution of hashtags used more than 200 times from the last period to this period; you can see that content was less viral overall, with fewer hashtags in the upper echelons and more in the lower. This shift may skew some of the numbers in the chart above toward IS, whose content tends to be more viral.

In terms of sentiment, references to the Islamic State by its proper name started to close the gap with al Nusra, increasing during a period that overall totals declined, while references to IS using the derogatory "Daash" declined significantly. This may suggest that IS is becoming a normalized part of the jihadi global community (an outcome suggested by Thomas Hegghammer some months ago), but it's probably wise to treat these numbers cautiously, since there have been similar fluctuations in the past (see the July 24 numbers, for instance).

Methodology: I looked at the most recent 200 tweets from approximately 7,600 Twitter accounts that were followed by 21 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 over the course of the study, 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. 

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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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