For Every 800 Working Against ISIS Online, ISIS Has 1,000

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(Photo: U.S. Air Force)
(Photo: U.S. Air Force)

It’s a startling statistic: For every 800 people working against ISIS online, ISIS has 1,000 people focused on recruitment. This was just one of the points learned from a panel discussion titled ‘The Digital, Social Fight Against Terrorism,” featuring Col. John Graham and John Melkon, both of the U.S. Military Academy.

The discussion, which took place at a Techonomy event, looked at how various groups are navigating online spaces to counter extremist recruitment.

Counter-extremism analyst Oz Sultan joined the panel for a discussion on ISIS online recruiting tactics (listen to the full podcast below).

Sultan discussed how the language of terror shifts in an online space. In an online space, everything from brand affiliation, brand marketing tactics and even brand appeal are strategies used by ISIS online to drive their recruitment processes.

What we know:

The nature of terrorism has changed

  • Under al-Qaeda, terrorism recruitment entered the digital sphere
  • With ISIS, terrorism recruitment went full digital
  • For every 800 people working against ISIS online, ISIS has 1000 people focused on recruitment
  • The conflict with the numbers game also spills over to countering extremism (CVE) strategies. While CVE strategies have typically focused creating an online community presence,  ISIS focuses on engaging their community pool

‘Jillenials’ are joining ISIS 

  • Two years of research across 80,000 Twitter accounts with pro-ISIS leanings shows that jihadi millennials (coined as “jillenials” by Sultan) are joining ISIS
  • The “jillennial” profile is that of a 21-34 year-old disenfranchised millennial, typically either a white Western or second-generation immigrant with non-secular leanings who are looking for meaning in life

Sultan also touches on how “brands” are impacted by ISIS (the subject of an upcoming Clarion podcast). The salient takeaway here is that — as Clarion Project’s Preventing Violent Extremism Training Program outlines — this generation is looking to extremist ideologies as a form of rebellion.

Pop Culture Behavior Patterns?

As Sultan points out,

“Punk rock [was] edgy. We don’t have punk rock anymore. We have ISIS, selling their ‘brand’ of punk rock online.”

Clarion Project’s National Correspondent Shireen Qudosi agrees,

“If a kid wanted to rebel in the 80’s or 90’s, they’d do drugs or join a gang. Today’s generation doesn’t experiment with pot; they experiment with extremist ideologies.”

Co-panelist Col. John Graham addressed another important question regarding extremist recruitment: Does ISIS online behavior translate into real time behavior? Or is it just a persona?

Sultan showed how ISIS recruitment follows a pattern — well-known by cults — to move a recruit from online to real time using three tactics:

  • ISIS makes you take a series of pledges to them
  • ISIS moves your online community to real time by selling you on your new friends
  • ISIS makes recruits ex-communicate their former circle of friends. (These recruitment patterns are repeated by other groups, like Antifa)


A Clarion Project ally, Oz Sultan has previously spoken with Clarion Project about: 




The Rabbit Hole Into Radicalization

Oz Sultan on Taking a Third Oath with ISIS

Why Do Foreigners Join ISIS?


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