Supporters of the Islamic State, or ISIS, around the world gather online, becoming members of virtual communities in much the same way any of us might join online groups focused on some common interest.
The videos, audio messages, letters, chatter and know-how that they then share are much more sinister than typical online hobbies, though.
They may ultimately inspire terrorist acts by individuals who have no prior history of extremism, no formal cell membership, no direct links to leadership.
How does this online support for ISIS manage to not just survive but thrive – even in the face of plenty of online anti-ISIS opposition?
The importance and urgency of this question couldn’t be greater, particularly given the uncertainties surrounding recent terrorist attacks by “inspired” individuals in the United States, as in San Bernardino and Orlando.
My colleagues and I at the University of Miami’s Complexity Initiative decided to tackle this question of what makes pro-ISIS online support tick. By intensively analyzing online datawe’ve been collecting continuously since 2014, our goal was to decode the online “ecology” of ISIS supporters. Could we even go a step further and use what we learned to make accurate predictions about real-world attacks?
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