It’s common knowledge that ISIS doesn’t shy away from using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram - alongside messenger service Telegram - as a way to spread propaganda online. Now, a Google executive has spoken out about this practice, saying that the only way to stop the terrorist group from expanding its digital reach is to limit ISIS’ online presence to the confines of the dark web.
During a talk with the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, Google’s Head of Ideas, Jared Cohen, said that while it won’t be possible to stop ISIS from using Tor and the dark web, the key to battling the group in the online space is to remove it from the open web.
“What ISIS is doing is reflective of the times, as opposed to some sort of new sophistication that magically appeared,” Cohen said. “What is new is that they're operating without being pushed back in the same Internet we all enjoy. So success looks like ISIS being contained to the dark web.”
ISIS has utilized the power of the web to spread its message more effectively than any terrorist organizations that came before it, but Cohen said that this is because of today’s ‘connected’ society, and not an indication of the group’s technical abilities.
“What ISIS is doing is reflective of the times, as opposed to some sort of new sophistication that magically appeared,” Cohen said. He added that ISIS is “not a tech savvy organization.”
Choen said that Islamic State “has managed to create an exaggerated sense of their size online,” by creating more accounts on sites such as Facebook and Twitter than there are actual members of the group. He explained that in order to stop people making contact with ISIS recruiters, these accounts must be removed at a faster rate than they are produced.
A study conducted by George Washington University showed that to have a Twitter account suspended meant “a badge of honor” for an Islamic State follower. Another study found that there were anywhere between 46,000 to 90,000 accounts supposedly belonging to ISIS members.
One suggestion put forward as a way to battle ISIS’ influence on the open web is to use targeted advertising. Yasmin Green, a Google ideas employee, suggested using the technique to “connect, distract, disrupt and maybe sell a different product” to web users who show an interest in ISIS propaganda material.