A New ISIS to Despise
Many years ago, in 2011, to be precise, Tufts created the new iSIS. Students complained. Faculty complained. Administrators complained. Students complained again. The system was revamped, re-released in 2013, and people still complained. Long story short, no-one really liked it, but that’s the way it was, and we continue to use it today. More significantly, Jumbos continue to complain about iSIS today.
But I have a funny feeling that when Jumbos talk about ISIS today, they aren’t talking about our online system to pick classes, check our grades, and confirm tuition payments. Nope. Today, we’re talking about the “new” terrorist organization in Iraq: the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, aka the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Don’t ask me, but the more popular acronym is ISIS, even though the more common full name should be shortened to ISIL.
The organization was originally founded during the Iraq war, as far back as 2004 it proclaimed its allegiance to al Qaida. Though the group originated as a part of al Qaida, it has since been disowned, with al Qaida leaders stating that the newer group is too radical. As of April 2013, ISIS declared the state of Iraq and Levant, and declared itself the ruler. It has been flourishing in Syria, where it took advantage of civil war to assert its power. And, within the past week, ISIS has taken advantage of heightening Sunni-Shiite tensions in Iraq to take control of some of Iraq’s largest cities, including Mosul, Fallujah, and Tikrit. As of now, they are a mere 15 miles from Baghdad, and residents are fleeing.
All of this is frightening and probably devastating for the fragile democracy that has been created in Iraq since the War on Terror began. But the end of peace, the rise of religious conflict, the militant groups almost seem normal. Yes, we’re talking about it. Yes, we’re worried that the violence will mean renewed US involvement in Iraq. (It already has.) But the thing that scares me most is the thing we’re barely talking about: the online campaign.
Remember back in 2011 when everyone was talking about the influence of twitter, facebook, and the internet in general in spurring citizen action to revolt against dictators in and around the Middle East? We called it the “Arab Spring,” even though it is arguably still going on 3.5 years later, and it has resulted in the downfall of leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, plus ongoing protests in many more countries. Well, the success of those internet campaigns is nothing compared to what ISIS is doing with social media, especially twitter.
Using the same analysis techniques that Western companies use to spread their advertising, ISIS is creating new trends on twitter and spreading their message. In addition, anybody who downloads an official ISIS app gives said app the right to post from their twitter account, meaning ISIS can spread its message from a variety of accounts and limit the chances their main account gets shut down. The result is an average of 72 retweets for every tweet coming from the official ISIS accounts, or incredible spread of their ideologies.
As a result of the rapid spread of ISIS ideologies, as well as the spread of frightening images and videos posted by the terrorist group, the Iraqi government has shut down internet access across the country. They’ve also told cell providers to restrict text messaging and internet access through their cellular networks. Hopefully these actions really will limit the spread of ISIS’s message, but with it being so thoroughly covered in international news, the terror factor has already set in. Unfortunately, in addition to stopping ISIS’s messages, the blanket shutdown of internet connections restricts the ability for correspondents to get information out of the country, for families to find and keep track of each other, for people in need of help to ask for it.
I can’t help but wonder if the negatives that come as a result of turning off the internet don’t outweigh the positives. And, while right now I know that the most important conversations regard what needs to be done to protect the lives of Iraqis and other Middle Easterners, I hope that as this immediate conflict dies down we can talk about what we can do to protect the livelihoods of these same people in future situations like this.
Sources/Further Reading about ISIS
- The Guardian – The Terrifying Rise of ISIS
- Reuters – Iraq Widens Internet Blocks to Disrupt Insurgent Communications
- The Atlantic – How ISIS Games Twitter
- The Daily Beast – Under an ISIS Flag, the Sons of Mosul are Rallying
- The Wall Street Journal – Militants Wrest Control of a Key Iraqi City
- ABC – More US Troops to Iraq; Special Forces Considered
- Washington Post – Pentagon Orders Amphibious Ship to Persian Gulf
- Forum… listen tomorrow from 9-10am PT for in-depth analysis of the impending Civil War in Iraq