Published on 29 Apr 2015 Sections

Inside the Anonymous campaign to take Islamic State offline

Activists with the Anonymous collective claim to have shut-down 25,000 ISIS propaganda and recruitment accounts on Twitter. Channel 4 News has spoken to the person running Operation #IceIsis.

The Islamic State militant group has long relied on Twitter to recruit people in the West, to distribute videos showing the beheading of aid-workers and to quickly distribute propaganda.

In recent months, ISIS fighters have gotten so frustrated with Twitter that they have threatened to assassinate its employees, asking lone wolves to make the social network the focus of their attacks.

The Anonymous collective, known for its ‘hacktivism’, is responding with an operation called #IceISIS. It is encouraging its supporters to find Twitter accounts linked to ISIS and to use Twitter’s reporting mechanism to get the accounts suspended.

Read more: Senior female ISIS agent unmasked and traced to Seattle

Yesterday, Channel 4 News revealed one of the most influential ISIS Twitter accounts is being ran by an American woman who is from Seattle.

It was the Anonymous group who took credit for getting her suspended on Twitter, having targeted her for suspension.


‘Make it hard for them to reach out’

A user operating under the name CtrlSec gave Channel 4 News exclusive access to data about the campaign. He says that he and the ‘team’ he operates has helped get 27,512 ISIS-linked accounts removed.

The man, who wants to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals against him, says they’re winning the battle against online jihadis.

He would only reveal his location to be somewhere in Europe, that he’s unemployed, and he claims that he has been working 18-hours a day on the campaign. He say he has been doing it since the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, which motivates him to take action.

“We are disrupting their communication, infiltrating their supporters. We do what we can online to make it hard for them to survive in this world,” he tells Channel 4 News.

“Twitter is, as we already know, the so called Islamic State’s main source of propaganda, recruitment, and warfare tactics online. So by making it harder for the core to reach out to their sympathizers we believe we can slow down the recruitment process for them.

“We will never say we can make them stop but of course if we will be able to do so, we will do so. All [we] do is enforce the Twitter guidelines that they should pay people to take care of. Before we started no one was doing anything else than watching and documenting.”

25,000 accounts shut down

CtrlSec claims responsibility for taking down more than 25,000 accounts and says it’s the efforts of Anonymous, not Twitter, that is leading to the accounts being identified as breaching Twitter’s rules.

The group use computer scripts to help them identify possible ISIS accounts, then manually check them to see if they are advocating violence.

After identifying targets the group asks its followers to report the accounts to Twitter en-masse.

Channel 4 News was shown a database providing some evidence for the suspension of at least 15,000 accounts.

And in sample of 200 of the suspended accounts, 75 had more than 1,000 followers, indicating that Anonymous has been able to disrupt influential accounts.

“[Twitter] are killing nearly 90 per cent of our databases on every raid so I refuse to believe that it’s based on their own research and effort.”

Questioned on whether Anonymous were preventing freedom of speech, Ctrlsec said: “Freedom of speech is a human right, but being able to live, play and breath is also something people should be allowed to do so without fear in the air.”

“I hate seeing people suffer the way they do under ISIS, while others think ‘it’s not here so why should I care’, and after seeing the impact and the reactions from ISIS on what we do I know I am giving them a hard time.”

“They do their warfare on Twitter so we counter their plans with 10 times the force of what they got.”

ISIS supporters have become so frustrated they are now attempting to target the Twitter accounts, such as @CtrlSec, for suspension.

ISIS networks on Twitter last week distributed a guide to enable its follower to set up new accounts without needing a phone number, a tactic Twitter hoped would stem the ease with with users could set up new accounts en masse. The guide has already been viewed 2,500 times.

Twitter did not respond to requests for comment.


Article topics