ISIL (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) manages to make itself seem a lot more popular than it actually is because, as an analysis of ISIL activity on social media has revealed, a few (less than ten) skilled and very active pro-ISIL twitter users have been responsible for keeping ISIL and their vile message visible. This core groups is aided by a few hundred very active, but much less skilled twitter based followers. The core of the ISIL twitter group know how twitter works and keeps activating new accounts as quickly as they are shut down for violating twitter TOS (Terms of Service, usually advocating violence and transmitting vile images). The second tier followers quickly retweet the messages
All this got started in 2010 and by 2014, despite 11,000 accounts being shut down, ISIL presence on twitter (and other social media) appeared unstoppable because the core ISIL twitter users found ways to be unstoppable. The largest concentration of pro-ISIL twitter users were in Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, with Saudi Arabia alone accounting for half the hard core traffic. The majority (about 70 percent) of pro-ISIL twitter activity was via inexpensive Android smart phones. The core members of the ISIL twitter army created and distributed automation tools to enable followers to have their smart phone automatically tweet certain messages. Much of this twitter traffic was in Arabic and just enough was sent in English to make it easy for the Western media to note and follow this “popular support” for ISIL.
In the past there have been successful efforts to identify and kill or capture key Islamic terrorist media experts, and thus cripple a successful media campaign. ISIL has learned from that and distributed and concealed the media leadership more effectively via cell phone use and having key personnel operate from ISIL controlled territory. Most of the second tier are either in the West or Moslem countries where there is a lot of popular support for Islamic terrorism.
The ISIL Internet strategy also has some serious drawbacks. The heavy use of twitter and other social media makes it easy for police and intelligence agencies to track many potential recruits who do not follow ISIL advice and be very careful with their communications. This leads to a growing number of prosecutions of wannabe ISIL supporters, terrorists and recruits. This is generally publicized, which discourages many potential recruits. Some aspects of this are not publicized, as in recruits who are actually double agents. Other ISIL associates are persuaded to simply pass on what they can find out while not becoming an active ISIL member. ISIL and other Islamic terrorist groups consider these acceptable losses, despite the bad publicity that accompanies the prosecutions and convictions. Being able to pwn twitter is its own reward.