Anonymous’ latest trolling of ISIS is currently making the rounds of the internet. Pro-ISIS accounts are being hijacked and turned into flurries of posts supporting the LGBT community — for social protest– and tweeting out gay porn, because it’s fun to imagine some ISIS shill logging into their account and seeing just what Anonymous did to it. Funny, sure. But is it doing anything else besides getting laughs?
Crushing ISIS On Twitter
The shenanigans mentioned above are largely thanks to Twitter user Wauchula Ghost, who isn’t just doing this for the lulz. Ghost hacks the accounts to find and report protected Twitter accounts and adds the porn both for laughs and to force Twitter’s abuse team to take notice of the accounts and shut them down. Twitter is notorious for its slow-moving abuse team, a problem the company itself has acknowledged, so the idea is to grease the gears and get the accounts taken down quickly.
While Twitter likely doesn’t appreciate the methods, they could use the help, and, in fact, Ghost has a public record of active accounts he’s found that Twitter then goes through and suspends. There are thousands of ISIS-connected accounts, or at least supporters of ISIS on Twitter, and while the company has deleted many of them, more just keep springing up. ISIS isn’t terribly advanced, it’s just loud, but that volume alone can be troubling.
Anonymous, for all its bluster, isn’t about to hijack a tank and go to Mosul. But keeping ISIS off Twitter is an important job. There’s just one question: Why is this task falling to Anonymous in the first place?
ISIS Vs. Twitter
Contrary to popular belief, ISIS are hardly master hackers. The Brookings Institute, in an overview of how ISIS uses social media, found that thousands of accounts had basic location metadata tagged to their tweets, and most even offered a state or other location in their profiles. In fact, intelligence agencies and government authorities have asked Twitter to keep accounts up for tracking purposes.
ISIS Twitter accounts also don’t last very long, Anonymous swooping in or not. Many of the accounts in the Brookings survey quickly got suspended when they became more active. Most of the group’s tweeting comes from a tiny number of accounts that tweet a lot out at once and then hope Twitter doesn’t notice. The issue is less that ISIS itself is active and more that ISIS sympathizers, who may have nothing to do with the group, are running around being — in the parlance of Anonymous — #Daeshbags. A fair number of “ISIS supporters” are likely little more than trolls themselves or have no ties to the group. Omar Mateen, despite swearing allegiance to ISIS, appears to have little if any connection with terrorism.
Another problem is the fact that you can’t just block words and concepts wholesale. If Twitter did that, this very article would likely never appear on the service. Social media, then, finds itself stuck balancing government intelligence demands, matters of taste, and its own users deciding to take matters into their own hands.
In the end, this may well be an endless fight. Where once there was al-Qaeda, there’s now ISIS, and sooner or later some other group will show up, pretending to love a religion while committing genocide. Ultimately, the only religion of any terrorist is hatred. And there’s only so much a person behind a keyboard can do. But even if we’ll never stop hate completely, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth fighting.