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Network of Terror: How Daesh Uses Adaptive Social Networks to Spread its Message


Title: Network of Terror:  How Daesh Uses Adaptive Social Networks to Spread its Message

Author: Joseph Shaheen

Date of Publication: November 2015

Journal / Publisher: NATO StratCom COE, Riga, Latvia

Purpose of the study

Key questions 

The use of social media to spread messages of a terrorist group



Social network analysis, social simulations, statistical analysis, as well as basic content and categorical analysis.


To understand the process by which DAESH disseminates propaganda online

Key findings 

Popular social media platforms such as, and especially, Twitter forms the core of DAESH’s propaganda and information dissemination efforts. 

DAESH (perhaps unknowingly) uses and an adaptive network structure on Twitter to combat outside influences and to react to external operations seeking to curb their operations. This network adapts at high speed and with limited central organization

DAESH makes innovative use of platform vulnerabilities that allows them to evade detection, suspension and deletion by state and non-state actors through both automated and manual methods of detection

Through the use of a core-periphery network structure and a high number of network central actors DAESH created a redundancy factor that can withstand repeated efforts to disrupt their information supply chain.

Through the use of account inflation, signaling, and closure methods, DAESH has been able to successfully create friend/follow networks that feed into their ability to build sustainable adaptive networks, evade detection, and maintain their level of online activity.

Key recommendations 

Authors create an explanatory process to simplify the reader’s understanding of the group’s usage of social media. They call it the DEER process. The DEER process begins with dissemination and ends with replenishment. They recommend this model as a way to build more effective strategies in combating the group.

Authors propose and recommend that in addition to the adjustments of technical methods used in the targeting of DAESH network infrastructure, that more emphasis should be placed on disrupting the supply chain of propaganda, rather on providing contrasting messages. This implies that permanent investments not only in new technology, but in human resources should be made, and coordinated labor division among NATO members as well as allies in the region should be instituted.

Authors also recommend that more effort must be made to remove the value proposition which DAESH uses to attract recruits to begin with.

Reviewer's Notes

Focus was not on the content that is distributed but the method by which it is distributed, in terms of the lines of communication from creation to absorption by its intended target audience. This required deep analysis focused on networks of communication on social media. Results yielded powerful insights, some common sense recommendations, and a few predictions on future events and actions.

A number of important findings; the most salient of which is on how individual level decisions made by many of their members have contributed to the survival of their propaganda capabilities, and in some instances an advanced ability to thwart efforts to eliminate their message and their outreach to both locals as well as Westerners.

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