Facebook has allowed the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) to establish a growing virtual presence in North America, used to radicalize, recruit, support, as well as potentially plan and direct terrorist attacks, an analysis by the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) found.
In a report released last week — Spiders of the Caliphate: Mapping the Islamic State’s Global Support Network on Facebook — CEP noted:
Our analysis of online IS communities globally, regionally, and nationally suggests that IS’s online networks, in particular on Facebook, are growing and can be utilized to plan and direct terror attacks as well as mobilize foreign fighters for multiple areas of insurgency.
Secondly, IS’s presence on Facebook is pervasive and professionalized, contrary to the tech company’s rhetoric and efforts to convince the public, policymakers, and corporate advertisers from believing otherwise. Our findings illustrate that IS has developed a structured and deliberate strategy of using Facebook to radicalize, recruit, support, and terrorize individuals around the world.
CEP found that ISIS has also established a Facebook community in Latin America with links to “core” supporters of the jihadist group in the Middle East, North Africa, as well as the Afghanistan and Philippines region.
David Ibsen, the director of CEP, told Breitbart News, “Given the proximity of Latin America to the United States, the threat from ISIS followers in these countries should not be underestimated.”
CEP reported that it expects “veteran IS fighters will be able to continue to expand the online community into both the United States and Latin America.”
Although the U.S.-led coalition and its local allies have taken back nearly all of ISIS’s territory in Iraq and Syria, Ibsen noted that the group’s “virtual caliphate” remains alive and well.
While the caliphate as an entity has almost disappeared, ISIS leaders several years ago began preparing their followers for this eventuality, urging them, for example, to carry out attacks in their home countries, rather than traveling to Syria or Iraq.
ISIS’s online presence has not experienced a shrinkage commensurate with the group’s physical holdings. This report, which documents ISIS supporters on Facebook in 96 unique countries, is further evidence of the group’s enduring presence.
CEP found that the social media giant had provided a platform for U.S.-based Islamic State (IS) supporters to organize and even hold weekly meetings on its Facebook Live component to “discuss how to avoid detection from the FBI and ways they can help the ‘virtual caliphate,’” noting:
The data presented above reveals a sobering degree of IS penetration within North America. Nearly every regional IS network in the world has multiple direct connections to American IS supporters online. These networks can and will be used both to draw American IS supporters into foreign conflicts as well as to encourage IS attacks within the United States. The main American IS network uncovered in this research consisted of multiple users actively engaged in spreading propaganda, radicalizing, and recruiting for IS.
Given that the report only provides “snapshots of IS [Facebook] connections between October 2017 and March 2018,” it is uncertain whether or not the ISIS supporters are still conducting weekly meetings on Facebook Live, Ibsen told Breitbart News, adding:
Even though Facebook had taken action against 43 percent of the nodes by March 5, 2018, the decentralized nature and resilience of ISIS followers on Facebook make it likely that their communications have continued.
All Internet and social media companies, not just Facebook, need to do a much better job of acknowledging the extent to which extremist groups have misused their platforms.
CEP mapped the accounts and connections between 1,000 ISIS-supporting profiles (or nodes) with affiliations to 96 countries on every continent with the exception of Antarctica.
The analysis excluded hundreds of profiles without information on users’ location, noting, “This data represents only a portion of [ISIS’s] support network on the platform.”
CEP’s report came after Facebook announced it was using artificial intelligence to remove 99 percent of terror-linked messages before anyone even reports it.
ISIS maintains a growing Facebook presence across the Western Hemisphere, including in Latin America, the NGO found.
IS targets many Latin American Facebook accounts for hacking and turns them into propaganda accounts… [indicating] that IS is making a concerted effort to tap into Latin America’s Arab and Muslim population, long a haven for other terror groups like Hezbollah and al-Qaeda.
Propaganda accounts serve the dual purpose of keeping IS supporters informed online and potentially radicalizing or recruiting the friends of the hacked account who now have and IS news feed on their Facebook wall.
IS will look to expand operations in this region, taking advantage of existing internal conflicts in countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Colombia to carry out attacks against western officials.
Since the ISIS presence erupted across the world in 2014, the U.S. military has cautioned that the jihadist group could exploit the knowledge of criminal Latin American human and drug traffickers to infiltrate the United States.