ISIS Online

The Project

Digital communications technologies have become a critical tool for modern terrorist organizations. Not only do groups like the Islamic State utilize the internet to disseminate their propaganda and communicate their aims to supporters, various virtual platforms have also been used to recruit members and facilitate terrorist plots around the world. Analysis of the "digital toolkit" used by violent extremist organizations can illuminate the overall functions, goals, and ideologies of specific groups, their supporters, and the broader movements behind them.

Following the release of the report ISIS in America: From Retweets to Raqqa, in December 2015, the Program on Extremism spearheaded an initiative tracing extremist digital communications over time. At present, the project focuses data collection on multiple platforms, including Twitter and Telegram, with the aim of understanding how activity on these platforms links to  online networks and trends. As a result of this intiative, the Program on Extremism has collected one of the largest time-bound databases of pro-Islamic State English Twitter accounts and a complementary database on Telegram. 







Encrypted Extremism: Inside the English-Speaking Islamic State Ecosystem on Telegram

Authored by Bennett Clifford and Helen Powell

June 2019

Telegram, an online instant messaging service popular among adherents of the Islamic State (IS), remains vital to the organization’s ecosystem of communications. The platform’s functional affordances, paired with relatively lax enforcement of Telegram’s terms of service (ToS), offers IS sympathizers a user-friendly medium to engage with like-minded supporters and content. This report examines 636 pro-IS Telegram channels and groups that contain English-language content collected between June 1, 2017 and October 24, 2018. While this time-bound and linguistically limited sample represents a sliver of the pro-IS ecosystem on Telegram, the subsequent findings have important implications for policymakers assigned to the dual tasks of countering IS’ online foothold and engaging with service providers like Telegram.