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10 Feb 2015

Tackling ISIS messaging requires a new strategic approach

Posted by Wandren PD. Comments Off


These days, you no longer need to fly halfway across the world to join your chosen extremist cause. You can be a jihadi from behind your screen, contributing to the effort with propaganda or cyber attacks.


The public profile of the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (IS) and their online supporters should disabuse any notion that modern extremist groups are technological illiterates hiding in caves. When it comes to propaganda, the ‘media mujahideen’ is native to the digital age: using the net to evade censorship and keep their message always online. As a result, a new approach to countering their efforts is necessary. The current plan seems to be an ineffective game of whack-a-mole, as we try to remove individual videos or user accounts one-by-one. Instead, we need to disrupt their ability to promote their message at a strategic level.

Although IS has been consistently marked out as a new departure in jihadist use of technology, in truth it has evolved over the last few years to adapt to information-rich and social media environments, all the while maintaining strong links to, and ideological coherence with, the content produced during earlier conflicts, reaching back to the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Since at least 2011, the physical ‘frontier’ of jihadist violence has expanded to encompass the virtual front – with professional media teams embedded with fighting units as well as the global network of media supporters, being encouraged to take part in the media jihad.

there is an increasing number of social network sites and platforms that are based on distributed servers and therefore difficult to censor: partly driven by legitimate concerns about privacy following Snowden’s revelations. All this, of course, will continue to get quicker and more reliable: that’s the way of things. In the global game of whack-a-mole, not only do more moles keep popping up, more of them are out of reach.

So we should use take-downs and account suspensions strategically, focusing on how the removal of accounts impacts on the ability of the network as a whole to operate – rather than looking at their individual profile. To do that, we need to invest in genuinely collaborative research capacity to produce open-source intelligence which combines expertise in jihadist history, ideology and language with big data techniques.

And that, in turn, will require far greater use of large-scale network analysis to track the flow of information through jihadist communities online, to figure out which, if any, moles are worth whacking.

And most importantly of all, this all needs to be shared with people already out there trying to confront the jihadists online, who can speak with greatest knowledge and authority on the subject. In the end, it won’t be governments or social media networks alone that play the decisive role in beating terrorist propaganda.

This is an excerpt from:

Jamie Bartlett and Ali Fisher, How to beat the media mujahideen, DEMOS Quarterly, Issue #5, Winter 2014/15

The full article is available here.

1 Oct 2014

Incorporating Big Data: One Giant Leap for Diplomacy

Posted by Wandren PD. Comments Off

Combining big data analysis and visualizations with a nuanced understanding of context, already central to diplomacy, can create opportunities for collaboration and for pushing the boundaries of what is imagined possible within 21st century public diplomacy. One of the greatest opportunities for influence comes from the synthesis of survey data and big data with the nuance, experience, and understanding developed by generations of diplomats – delivering an insight-driven culture.

Read the full post on the USC CPD blog:

The graph shown below is an interactive version of the image in the post. It allows users to zoom in on specific areas of the graph.

Use the controls in the bottom left of the image, magnifying glass activates zoom, compass activates mouse controlled navigation of the graph, house returns graph to original view.

4 Mar 2014

Network Analysis and Digital Humanities

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The easy availability of tools through which to analyse data is creating many exciting opportunities for the digital humanities to explore the available data in new interdisciplinary methods which compliment existing approaches.

These are my slides from a really interesting session at SOAS:


22 Oct 2013

Non-textual data and new media sources

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Many of the challenges of analysing social and other forms of digital media can be summed up as features of volume, speed, and credibility.

The challenges of volume, speed and credibility often require analysis which focuses on the aggregate of human actions, habits of engagement, and the concept of emergent behaviour.

Below a presentation showing how network analysis and other data tools can be used to analyse non-textual data and new media sources in the context of nuclear non-proliferation;



or download your presentation here;

Non-textual data and new media sources KCL Oct 2013


10 Sep 2013

66 Important Jihadist Twitter Accounts (part 2)

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In our earlier post, together with Ali Fisher we detailed and assessed 66 accounts listed by Shumukh al-Islam jihadi Forum member Ahmad ‘Abdallah as ‘important jihadist’ members on twitter. We looked primarily at the users individually, using the data of these 66 accounts to create this infographic to give our readers an overview of these users.

In this post we focus on what we are able to find out about them as a group and provide an interactive network map to show the links between these advocated ‘important jihadist’ twitter accounts.

The relationships between the 66 accounts are shown in the image above, and be explored in greater detail by clicking on the image, which will open the interactive version. When using the interactive image, clicking on a node will focus on the connections of that user, double click to open the twitter account of that user. Please note that the interactive image works best in the Chrome Browser.

Relational dynamics

Analysing the relational dynamics between these accounts as a group and those who choose to follow them is a key part of understanding the online strategies of “The most important jihadi and support sites for jihad and the mujahideen on Twitter”.

As we identified previously, the accounts had been categorized in different types by Ahmad ‘Abdallah. This underlines the diverse range of information, which was recommended to further the jihadist endeavour in general. In addition to understanding the specific accounts, the data can be used to analyse the network of individuals who follow the 66 ‘important jihadist’ accounts. The relationships are important as they influence the way individuals search for information, what theyfind and the behaviours they adopt.

Read the full post on Jihadica

10 Sep 2013

66 important jihadist accounts on Twitter

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In this part of our series for Jihadica on the Jihadi Twitter phenomenon, Ali Fisher and Nico Prucha take a closer look at 66 Twitter accounts recommended by a Jihadi online forum user.

To be clear, we are analyzing these accounts that are defined in this posting as most important for jihadi sympathizers, but it does not necessarily mean that the individual Twitter accounts are an integral part of this worldview.

A posting on the Shumukh al-Islam forum recently provided a “Twitter Guide” (dalil Twitter). This ‘guide’ outlined reasons for using Twitter as an important arena of the electronic ribat; identified the different types of accounts which users could follow; and highlighted 66 users which Ahmad ‘Abdallah termed “The most important jihadi and support sites for jihad and the mujahideen on Twitter”.

We mentioned this guide in our first post kicking off the series on Jihadica. In this post we intend to clarify the meaning ofAhmad ‘Abdallah’s Twitter guide, published at end of February 2013 on Shumukh al-Islam. We will then analyse the data on the twitter accounts which he claimed to be the most important within the overall jihadi context. An overview of this data is also available in our infographic, 66 Important Jihadis on Twitter (click here or the image for the full size):

Read the full post on Jihadica

10 Sep 2013

New post: Diplomats – Get into Data

Posted by Wandren PD. Comments Off

“From engaging with activists in closed societies to countering the efforts of Jihadist groups; there has never been a better time for diplomats to get into data.”

There has never been a better time for diplomats to get into data and push the boundaries of what is imagined to be possible within public diplomacy. The amount of data available is greater than ever, perhaps 90% of which was generated in the last two years. At the same time, more people globally are communicating in ways that generate data which is publicly observable, for example through the API of social media platforms. Equally, the tools to analyse data have expanded rapidly, allowing users to search large amounts of data quickly and efficiently.

Certainly, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb noted during the Moneyball Diplomacy event, there is a need for discrimination in analysis, due to the level of “noise” in data. Identifying what ‘signal’ is meaningful to the task of diplomacy will require diplomats and scholars to become increasingly comfortable engaging with, analysing, and using increasingly large and often unstructured data. Engaging in this type of work can open further opportunities for collaboration and to push the boundaries of what is imagined to be possible within public diplomacy.

Read more on the USC CPD blog:

28 Jun 2013

New Article – Twitter as beacon for Jihadi Zeitgeist

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CTC frontpageThis article, published in the CTC Sentinel, a journal published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, discusses the emergence of jihadist social media strategies.

The article shows how the Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) has used Twitter to disseminate content, and analyzes content shared by JN. Using an interdisciplinary approach to the analysis of jihadist propaganda, this article demonstrates how jihadist groups are using Twitter to disseminate links to video content shot on the battlefield in Syria and posted for mass consumption on YouTube. Data for this article is derived from analysis based on more than 76,000 tweets, containing more than 34,000 links to web-based content. Through the mining of this data, this article identifies a content sharing network of more than 20,000 active Twitter accounts and a collection of YouTube video files that have been viewed nearly 450,000 times.

Read the article here:

for coverage of the article:



10 Jun 2013

Jihadi Twitter Activism part 2: Jabhat al Nusra

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For the second instalment of our Jihadi Twitter Activism series Nico Prucha and I explore data collected from Twitter related to the Syrian AQ branch Jabhat al-Nusra.

This post identifies key ‘influence multipliers’ for Jabhat al-Nusra’s strategic communication and an overview of the content that these multipliers disseminate via Twitter.

To analyze jihadi social media networks, their sympathizers and followers we have used an interdisciplinary approach, which combines big data techniques, network analysis and the subsequent analysis of key users and content. In this post we present preliminary analysis of over 76,000 tweets relating to Jabhat al-Nusra collected over 50 days between January and March 2013.

Read more… on Jihadica



28 Apr 2013

Jihadi Twitter activism

Posted by Wandren PD. Comments Off

Hep V

I recently recently exchanged thoughts and data with Nico Prucha regarding the increasing Jihadi use of Twitter. By taking an interdisciplinary approach of social-media analysis and cluster network assessment, we decided to start a series on Jihadica on the parts of the overall jihadi, primarily Arabic language propaganda resonating among the audiences online.

Read our first post in full here: http://bit.ly/10JpLsb


Image by: renjith krishnan

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