The Pro-ISIS Presence On Instagram

May 29, 2018

Instagram, one of the most popular social media platforms,[1] has been used for several years by Islamic State (ISIS) supporters and operatives for sharing and disseminating content.[2] Previously, a group of ISIS prisoners in Indonesia even broadcast a live Instagram video feed from inside the prison during a deadly riot.[3] Despite the military setbacks ISIS has experienced on the ground, and despite social media platforms' ongoing efforts to remove ISIS content, the ISIS media apparatus has proven itself to be resilient and able to maintain presence online, including on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.[4] As of May 2018, MEMRI had not found an official ISIS media outlet account on Instagram, there appear to be several important pro-ISIS media outlets on it.

Pro-ISIS content distributors on Instagram.

The following report is the result of MEMRI's two-month investigation into pro-ISIS Instagram accounts, and is a follow up to a previous MEMRI report published October 2017.[5] It aims, first, to identify specific trends in the use of Instagram by accounts that share pro-ISIS content, and second to provide an overview of the different types of content shared on the platform. It does not aim to provide an overall assessment of ISIS's Instagram presence, but presents an in-depth look into that presence by simulating the user experience of a pro-ISIS user connecting to the network of like-minded jihad supporters.

The main findings of the research are:

  • Instagram is a platform that is particularly well suited to ISIS's constant production of new images and videos.
  • ISIS content is present on Instagram within networks of pro-ISIS accounts, and can be found easily by supporters.
  • ISIS content provider accounts were observed to be rapidly shut down; however, networks of pro-ISIS accounts that were passive consumers of this content - that is, they do not actively share it with others - generally appeared to be left alone by Instagram to maintain their networks. Most of the accounts sharing pro-ISIS content that were observed during the study were removed within days of their posting pro-ISIS content. Of the 165 accounts collected for the research, only 39 were still on the platform after two months; these tended to share less blatant pro-ISIS content.
  • Pro-ISIS accounts on Instagram adapt in numerous ways so as to avoid having their accounts shut down - making their networks resilient and sustainable. Additionally, accounts that have been shut down return to the platform quickly, under new user names.
  • Instagram features such as Explore, which suggest accounts that may interest the user, facilitate the formation of pro-ISIS networks.
 

The full text of this report is available to MEMRI Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor subscribers.

Subscription information is available at this link.

JTTM subscribers can visit this page to view the report.

 

[1] Statista, April 2018.

[2] MEMRI research on ISIS's media presence on social media published in July 2014 mentioned ISIS content's spread on Instagram. See MEMRI JTTM report A Review Of The Islamic State's Use Of Social Media In Western Languages, July 3, 2014.

[3] See MEMRI JTTM report ISIS Prisoners Take Control Of Jail In Indonesia, Live Stream On Instagram From Inside The Facility, May 9, 2018.

[4] See MEMRI JTTM report Resilience Of ISIS Media Operations Despite Setbacks: The French-Language Example, March 18, 2018.

[5] See MEMRI JTTM report Instagram - An Accessible Platform For ISIS Supporters And Activists To Share Graphic Images, Videos, And Publications, October 12, 2017.

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