For a long time, ISIS has had a disturbingly competent online presence. They have a glossy online magazine that teaches subscribers how to make bombs in their homes, they upload regular propaganda videos to YouTube, and they have hundreds of Twitter accounts dedicated to finding potential recruits.
Long feature pieces have been written about just how effective ISIS’ online recruitment is – one piece even argued that ISIS is ‘winning the social media war’. But if this really is an internet war, a new militia has just been formed – and so far, it’s beating the terrorist organization.
The Social Media War
‘Di5s3nSi0N‘ is a collective of Muslim hackers who have just managed to hack into ISIS’ propaganda network, Amaq. Other hacker groups have tried to infiltrate ISIS servers in the past – but few have had much success. Di5s3nSi0N, as part of an operation they call #SilenceTheWords, managed to obtain and leak a list of nearly 2,000 subscribers to ISIS’ mailing list. This comes after a series of hacks last week on ISIS’ Amaq agency. Amaq, following the hack, released a statement in Arabic saying, ‘We can now handle email attacks or any type of hack’. After this statement was released, Di5s3nSi0N obtained their mailing list within three hours.
But who exactly are Di5s3nSi0N? Their Twitter account’s bio reads, ‘We, the steadfast youth of Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jammah, are back to break Daesh’. They are a group of Sunni Muslims, who argue that ISIS members are traitors who worship a “false caliph”. When they hacked the mailing list of Amaq, they wrote, ‘Daesh… Shall we call you dogs for your crimes or snakes for your cowardice?’. It has been difficult for journalists to find out much more about the group, as they do not respond to requests for interview or give any detailed information about themselves.
What will happen to ISIS?
This hack comes in the context of ISIS losing its stronghold of Raqqa, a city in Northeast Syria and the former capital of the Islamic State. In October, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) declared that they had liberated the city. The Battle of Raqqa had been ongoing since June of this year, meaning that it had taken four months for ISIS to be driven out of the city. The future of the Islamic State is now unclear – the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, declared that the foundations of the Islamic State had been destroyed.
The online war is also going badly for ISIS. Charlie Winter, a Senior research fellow at King’s College London, says that the online output from the Islamic State has fallen from over 200 videos, magazines, and radio programmes per week in 2015 to only 20 per week in 2017.
Di5s3nSi0N’s efforts probably won’t bring down ISIS’ internet presence and propaganda distribution network entirely, but their contributions are the latest in a series of blows to one of the Islamic State’s main methods of finding and recruiting young Muslims who have the potential to be radicalized. We don’t know how long the Islamic State will continue to exist, but with the liberation of Raqqa and the deterioration of their online recruitment methods, it might be the beginning of the end of ISIS.