In June 2014, the militant group that Obama refers to as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, grabbed the world’s attention after it took over much of northern Iraq in roughly four days. Islamic State accomplished this by building a massive, sophisticated virtual network of fighters in addition to those on the ground. Indeed, its expansion online has been as swift as its territorial gains. It is this virtual power grab that will be most difficult to combat.
The Internet has largely sustained the jihadist movement since 9/11. With this powerful tool, jihadists coordinate actions, share information, recruit new members and propagate their ideology.
Until the rise of Islamic State, extremist activity and exchanges online usually took place inside restricted, password-protected jihadist forums. But Islamic State brought online jihadism out of the shadows and into the mainstream, using social media -- especially Twitter – to issue rapid updates on its successes to a theoretically unlimited audience.
In the same way that Islamic State’s land grab proved stunning, the group’s actions online have been deeply troubling. Up until a recent crackdown by Twitter, Islamic State’s presence on the site had grown tremendously -- from a small one to a well-organized network with dozens of accounts.
For example, Al-Hayat Media Center, the group’s primary Western-aimed media producer and distributor, was using the micro-blogging site to tweet jihadist material, including magazines, Islamic chants, e-books, leadership messages and calls to join the group. It also sent high-definition videos in Arabic, English, Bosnian, German, French, Russian, Indonesian and other languages.