A new report by the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, entitled Isis in America: From Retweets to Raqqa, has identified at least 300 American sympathisers of the Islamic State (Isis) who are spreading the terrorist organisation's propaganda or recruiting individuals on Twitter. The recently released report found that IS supporters in the US tend to be men, although almost a third of social media accounts examined appeared to run by women.
According to CBS News, the report relied on media reports, court records and interviews and found that American supporters "spasmodically create accounts that often get suspended in a never-ending cat-and-mouse game". Twitter accounts are replaced by new ones with variations on previously used usernames within hours. These accounts typically use avatars featuring black flags, lions and green birds, the report revealed.
In order to identify the accounts, which is not an easy task, researchers relied on a number of key clues. These included users that self-identified as American, Twitter's geo-location tagging and the usage of the Arabic "al-Amriki" or "the American" in their Twitter handles. Researchers also analysed the use of language, spelling and any cultural references.
Researchers broke down Twitter accounts into three categories: nodes, amplifiers and shout-outs. Nodes were found to be the ones who primarily created content for IS, while amplifiers retweet and favourite content from nodes. Meanwhile, shout-outs introduce new accounts and promote the replacement accounts for suspended users.
The study noted that law enforcement authorities in the US have arrested 56 people in 2015 due to activities related to IS. While most IS supporters in the US were found to be radicalised online, the study found that many also discussed their support with others in person, TIME reported. The report stated that a number of US extremists "cultivated and later strengthened their interest in Isis's narrative through face-to-face relationships. In most cases online and offline dynamics complement one another."
While the numbers in the US are alarming and the threat for radicalisation exists in the US, the student concluded that it is "significantly smaller, more decentralised, and less professional than that of most European countries." The Wall Street Journal reported in September that the UK has arrested nearly 300 people on terrorism-related charges in the last year alone.