How Jihadist Networks Maintain a Persistent Online Presence

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The article examines the activity of the ‘media mujahedeen’ – the supporters of jihadist groups who disseminate propaganda content online. It shows that the media mujahideen group operates through a dispersed network of accounts which constantly reconfigures much like the way a swarm of bees or flock of birds constantly reorganizes in mid-flight. Drawing on the metaphor of a swarm this article introduces the netwar inspired concept of the user curated Swarmcast and demonstrates the role of the Swarmcast in maintaining the persistent presence of Jihadist content online. This article uses a range of big data techniques including network analysis, combined with examples of Jihadist communication strategy to identify the elements which have allowed groups to maintain a permanent presence for their content online, despite the efforts of western governments working with social media platform providers to prevent terrorist propaganda.

The article will be especially important to researchers on policy. It concludes that future policy to counter the dissemination of Jihadist content must challenge the Swarmcast on a strategic level. To be successful, strategies will need to take account of all three components of the Swarmcast when employing takedowns or other counter-measures. This will mean focusing on strategic approaches to disrupting the system-wide emergent structures and collective behaviours rather than the tactical removal of individual accounts.

Ali Fisher