ISIS fighters are from the Middle East and North Africa MENA a surprising

Isis fighters are from the middle east and north

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ISIS’ fighters are from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), a surprising number of fighters have arrived from the Western world. ISIS’ message has global reach and has even motivated lone wolf attacks in Canada [ 5 ], France [ 6 ], the United States [ 7 ], and the United Kingdom [ 8 ].
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Not all members of ISIS’ online community display the same levels of online extremism. Some claim unaffiliated sympathizers who simply retweet or repost propaganda represent a paradigmatic shift explaining ISIS’ unprecedented online success [ 9 12 ]. In many cases these unaffiliated users’ activity, although offensive to many, is not in clear violation of law or “The Twitter Rules [ 13 ].” However, this large body of “passive supporters” contribute to the volume of ISIS related content proliferated on Twitter and appears to be a vital component of ISIS social media campaign. These individuals are therefore of interest to any effort to counter online extremism. Some of these passive sympathizers become recruiting targets. ISIS uses small teams of social media users to lavish attention on the potential recruits and move the conversation to more secure online platforms [ 12 ]. Thus, while Twitter may not be the place where recruitment ends, growing evidence suggests that identifiable patterns of recruitment begin on Twitter. The primary goal of this work is to provide methods allowing researchers to gain insight into this online social network of unaffiliated sympathizers, propagandists, fighters and recruiters, and how these users interact to create a thriving online extremist community (OEC). We argue that such understanding is needed to create counter- narratives tailored to the online populations most vulnerable to this type of online extremism. To do so, we must first solve another problem—identifying an OEC on Twitter. This task is difficult for three reasons. First, the size of OECs varies and is often unknown. With respect to ISIS, it has been estimated that the OEC is between 46,000 and 70,000 strong [ 11 ]. However, the relatively small intersection between existing datasets maintained by activists and researchers indicates the group could in fact be much larger. Second, current social media community detection methods require a great deal of manual intervention, or provide unacceptable precision via automated methods—there is thus an existing tradeoff between manual coding of the data and highly inaccurate classification tools in the existing literature. As ISIS’ popularity has grown, so too has its opposition; thus the ISIS OEC and extremist groups in general tend to be covert in that they actively attempt to avoid some form of detection. Twitter now systematically identifies and suspends user accounts associated with the group [ 14 ]. In fact, Twitter has initiated a systematic campaign to neutralize ISIS’ use of the site and announced in March of 2016 the suspension of over 125,000 ISIS supporting accounts in a six month period [ 15 ]. Furthermore, activist groups like
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