ISIS Uses Internet Archives To Spread Propaganda, Report Finds

Kyle Perisic | Contributor

The Islamic State has found a way around efforts to prevent its propaganda from spreading online by archiving links before they’re removed from the internet, according to a new analysis.

“Two key components to the success of ISIS’s information-warfare strategy include widespread distribution of propaganda materials, and access to multiple target audiences for the consumption of those materials,” the report stated.

The Daily Caller News Foundation obtained a copy of the report. The report, conducted by business firm Flashpoint, analyzed links from 2015 to 2017 on two secret pro-ISIS forums on the “dark web” — websites that cannot be found on search engines — and analyzed more than 730,000 web links for one forum and 290,000 for the other.

Among the top 10 sites ISIS and pro-ISIS actors linked to on the secret forums, according to the analysis, are some of the most popular sites on the internet such as Google, YouTube, Dropbox and Archive.org — the most popular site they used.

Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and many other sites have been taking steps to combat pro-ISIS propaganda by removing their posts, but ISIS and its supporters have been getting around those efforts by storing the posts on Archive.org before they’re removed.

Archive.org, or “Internet Archive,” allows users to save webpages if they’re taken down. The Internet Archive describes itself as “a 501(c)(3) non-profit … building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form.”

Although the site itself is meant to be a public good, and indeed it proves it’s useful in many respects, ISIS and pro-ISIS actors take advantage of it now that other websites are taking measures to remove their propaganda.

“While a review of randomly selected [Internet Archive] URLs revealed that some of the content had been removed, other samples throughout the range of 2015 to 2017 remain active,” the report stated.

ISIS and pro-ISIS actors, aware that they can no longer wait for their site to be archived by their server’s web crawler, actively post their propaganda and immediately archive it before it can be taken down.

“In addition, the data suggests that rather than waiting for these pages to be archived by the service’s web crawler, members are actively archiving pages after creating them,” the report stated.

Putting propaganda on the web is only step one for ISIS and its supporters — they also need to spread that information. Twitter and Facebook have been useful tools for them to find friends and spread their radical message.

Facebook’s “suggested friends” feature inadvertently helps ISIS and pro-ISIS users to make connections, as TheDCNF previously reported. (RELATED: Study: Facebook’s ‘Suggested Friends’ Are Helping Terrorists Connect)

Twitter was also a tool ISIS and its supporters used. The report stated that established Twitter accounts would tweet pro-ISIS propaganda with links to encrypted chatrooms users can access to obtain archived web links.

Twitter accounts are usually removed within hours of their establishment, according to the report. One one forum, a pro-ISIS user shared a screenshot of a Tweet, written in Arabic:

“Among the Islamic State’s greatest losses overall is the loss of what was called ‘Wilayat Twitter.’ And the group is still trying in vain to incite its supporters to return to Twitter …” the post read.

A spokesman for Internet Archive, Chris Butler, said they have met with U.S. and European Union officials and are working to combat the issue, the BBC reported.

Butler said “much of this content is taken down promptly upon our being made aware of it, for example content with executions or personal threats.”

“Other extremist material may be sequestered and/or placed behind barriers to deter the use of our site for promotional, propagandistic purposes while keeping it preserved, which various journalists, academics, law enforcement officials, and other researchers have all let us know is important and useful in their work,” he said.

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