The ongoing battle between the Islamic State and the hacker group “Anonymous” rages as two other “hactivist” groups, GhostSec and Ctrlsec, teamed up with Anonymous to produce a list of 9,200 Twitter accounts linked to ISIS. The hackers are hoping to raise public awareness of how big ISIS has become online, and get many of these accounts suspended in accordance with Twitter’s terms of service. Twitter has been working aggressively to shut down ISIS accounts, with enough success to earn them a round of death threats from the terror group and its online supporters.
International Business Times reports that the Anonymous campaign against ISIS, dubbed #OpISIS on Twitter, claims to have taken out almost a thousand of the terror state’s websites and online accounts. Dismantling their Twitter presence is difficult, because ISIS uses a technique called “swarming,” which basically means creating a vast web of Twitter accounts that constantly link to and reference each other. IBT describes it as a “hydra-like platform,” which is even more appropriate if you capitalize HYDRA and imagine the terrorist crew hailing it.
Lopping off nine thousand of the hydra’s heads at once is bound to get its attention, because all of the Islamic State’s other media efforts — viral videos, propaganda websites, even a good deal of their international recruiting program — is routed through Twitter.
“Without Twitter being the central hub, they wouldn’t be able to move this content around at all,” an Anonymous hacker explained.
Anonymous and its allies have been doing so well against the Islamic State on the digital front that IBT relays a serious suggestion, from Emerson Brooking of the Council on Foreign Relations, to have the U.S. government essentially deputize them, or maybe hire them as Internet bounty hunters. (I think they’d prefer the latter description of the relationship, because it sounds much cooler, and they’d have an excuse to use Boba Fett avatars on social media. Or maybe Boba Fett opening his helmet to reveal a Guy Fawkes mask underneath.)
“How is it that the U.S. government, capable of coordinating a complex air campaign from nearly 6,000 miles away, remains virtually powerless against the Islamic State’s online messaging and distribution network?” Brooking asked in a Foreign Policy article. “If the United States is struggling to counter the Islamic State’s dispersed, rapidly regenerative online presence, why not turn to groups native to this digital habitat? Why not embrace the efforts of third-party hackers like Anonymous to dismantle the Islamic State — and even give them the resources to do so?”
Brooking suggested paying Anonymous in Bitcoin for the ISIS digital scalps it collects, which sounds just perfect. The problem, as always, is the loss of control and due process when employing vigilantes – perhaps less of a concern if the crucial ISIS Twitter network can be taken down with perhaps a handful of unfairly-suspended accounts as collateral damage. Analysts generally credit Twitter with making a sincere effort to crack down on the Islamic State, but also question whether the effort is making an appreciable dent in the terrorist network. If hactivists can keep rounding up thousands of ISIS accounts in short order, the balance could shift decisively against the head-choppers and their snuff-film audience. When it’s all over, Anonymous could write a book about hunting down terrorist Tweeps and call it “For A Few Bitcoin More.”