The hacker collective Anonymous announced Tuesday morning that it has brought down thousands of Twitter accounts associated with ISIS.
Following the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday, Anonymous declared war on ISIS and said it would launch its biggest operation ever against the Islamic State. A Twitter account believed to be associated with the Anonymous campaign claimed that 5,500 accounts with links to ISIS had been brought down.
Social Media the Strength — and Weakness — of ISIS
A key component of the Islamic State’s strategy of spreading terror across the world is its social media presence. The group rose to global prominence after posting videos of beheadings online that were then picked up by media outlets everywhere. This not only served to spread terror in the countries that ISIS views as its enemies but it also helped the Islamic State to raise funds and recruit new members.
Thousands of ISIS volunteers from all over Europe and elsewhere in the world have made their way to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State. These individuals, armed with the ISIS ideology, trained to wage war, and carrying EU passports, are widely considered to be serious security threats to their home countries as well.
Blocking the social-media presence of ISIS could interfere with its recruiting and fund-raising activities. There are some indications that the Islamic State is already feeling the effects. Social media accounts associated with ISIS have sent out specific instructions on how to prevent getting hacked by Anonymous.
In these instructions ISIS urges followers not to open attachments unless they know the source, to avoid the Twitter direct-messaging feature and to never use an email address as a username on Twitter. According to ISIS, failure to take these precautions has caused many of its followers to lose their accounts and have their IP addresses published.
While the Anonymous campaign was widely praised on social media in the West, not all experts agree that shutting down ISIS Twitter accounts is a good idea. In fact, some believe it could be counterproductive because the intelligence community uses the accounts to track connections between ISIS sympathizers.
French cybersecurity expert Olivier Laurelli told the AFP that forcing ISIS supporters “to close accounts just renders police investigators blind and dead for certain things,” such as identifying the country of origin of the account holder.
Those concerns are unlikely to deter the Anonymous members who are taking on the Islamic State. However, the organizers of the the Anonymous campaign, called #OpParis, also pointed out that their decision to go up against ISIS is no endorsement of the actions taken by others.
“We by no means condone the bombing of Syria from France and other countries. They’re doing what ISIS did to them: kill innocents,” Anonymous said on Twitter.