Wider action needed on extreme Twitter accounts - Sussex research

Dr Suraj Lakhani

Academics at the University of Sussex, Dublin City University, and VoxPol have found that Twitter is effectively engaging in “substantial and aggressive” disruption of pro-Islamic State (IS) accounts. The social media platform is now far less effective than it used to be for the terrorist network.

However, the researchers also found that different levels of disruption were occuring on Twitter, as other jihadi accounts were not experiencing the same levels of suspension. These groups and their supporters were able to send six times as many tweets and follow or “friend” four times as many accounts. They also gained 13 times as many followers as pro-IS accounts.

Dr Suraj Lakhani, an expert in violent extremism at the University of Sussex, and one of the report’s authors, said: "Our research demonstrates that Twitter is very effective in disrupting IS and their propaganda on the platform. However, other violent jihadi groups, including Hayat Tahrir al Sham and the Taliban, are able to operate more freely.

“They are subject to lower disruption rates, able to send more tweets, and follow and ‘friend’ more accounts compared to IS supporters.

“In recent years, there has been a tendency for counter-terrorism professionals, academics and researchers to focus on Islamic State as an organisation, particularly on Twitter. We recommend that as well as continuing to disrupt Islamic State on social media, there should not be any complacency about the other jihadis, and far-right organisations. Their activities across a variety of social media and other online platforms should be targeted too.”

The research found that more than 25% of pro-IS accounts were suspended within five days of their creation; a negligible number (less than 1%) of other Jihadist accounts were subject to the same rapid response.

The findings, from a new research study - Disrupting Daesh, Measuring the Takedown of Online Terrorist Material and Its Impacts - analysed the postings of 722 pro-IS accounts with more than 57,000 tweets and 451 “other Jihadist groups” with more than 62,000 tweets. It is freely acccessbile on the VoxPol website.

The report was co-authored by Professor Maura Conway with Moign Khawaja at DCU, and Dr Suraj Lakhani from the Law, Politics and Sociology School at the University of Sussex as well as Dr Jeremy Reffin, Andrew Robertson and Professor David Weir from Infomatics at the University of Sussex.


By: Anna Ford
Last updated: Friday, 1 September 2017