Al-Nusra Front: Breaking al-Qaeda’s Forum Monopoly

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This article describes the methods through which the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s wing in Syria, has come into conflict with pro-Islamic State accounts and users on online platforms. In particular, it investigates the results of the conflict between the two groups on the Shumukh al-Islam forum, previously a primary nexus for jihadist discussion online, and the way in which Nusra has been able to use other forms of social media, particularly Twitter, to mitigate the results of losing popularity with Shumukh al-Islam users and moderators. The open-source nature of Twitter as a platform has allowed it to far surpass the importance of password-protected forums such as Shumukh al-Islam, a development that reduces the role of previously influential and more tightly-controlled mediums that once dominated the online jihadi space.

This publication provides a breakdown of how disputes between various jihadist groups on Twitter and online forums have played out, and how the al-Nusra front has managed to supersede the previous ‘gatekeepers’ of online jihadist message distribution (forum administrators). This makes it of particular interest to researchers looking to understand the primary methods by which jihadist groups are seeking to disseminate content online, and the shift towards open-source platforms over previously ascendent closed ones.

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Rita Katz and Margaret Foster

April 2014