Course Reflection

  1. Strong arguable thesis that is easy to locate
  2. Flow and cohesion: effective transitions between paragraphs and ideas
  3. Demonstrating credibility of sources
  4. Synthesis of sources and ideas
  5. Addressing counter-arguments
  6. Definition through multiple media
  7. Ensuring clear distinction between ideas of sources and author
  8. Use of ethos, pathos and logos

Out of all of the projects I completed for Writing 5, synthesis of information was perhaps most important in the literature review because the paper consisted entirely of neutrally-presented information. In my first draft that was submitted for peer review, there was already some effective synthesis. Of the sixth paragraph in this draft, one peer reviewer wrote, “I find this paragraph to be especially effective. It integrates two different sources, gives examples of attempts at halting ISIS through hacking, and expresses the viewpoint of the source’s author – as a literary review should.” Professor McIntyre noted on the conference draft, however, that most paragraphs after the third page of the paper make use of only one source and suggested supplementing these paragraphs with sources espousing similar ideas.

For my final draft, I focused on including more than one source in each body paragraph wherever possible. This is so important because showing that multiple sources agree on a particular viewpoint greatly enhances the credibility of that viewpoint. For example, in paragraph nine of the final draft, I cite three sources in my discussion of the positive effects of suspending the Twitter accounts of ISIS users. Each source contributes something slightly different to the discussion: Berger and Morgan provide quantitative data to suggest the suspensions are harming ISIS, Gladstone provides a quote from a member of one of the hacking groups carrying out the suspensions who speaks to the same effect, and Berger suggests that suspensions are occurring at such a rate as to outpace the re-creation of lost accounts by ISIS. Taken together, information supplied by these sources paints a clear picture of what result the suspensions are having and speaks to their effectiveness. Synthesis proves to be a powerful writing strategy here, especially, because there are also those who believe the suspensions have little impact. These three sources, however, provide very powerful and compelling evidence to suggest otherwise.

Synthesis also played a crucial role in the case study project. Though its role may have been somewhat less central as the focus of this project shifted from simple presentation of information to creating an argument, the argument nonetheless needed to be effectively supported. I think this paper actually did a better job of synthesis than the first paper because I learned from the mistakes I made while writing the first paper (not using more than one source per paragraph). By integrating sources from the beginning, I think the paper flowed better from the outset. For example, in the tenth paragraph of the peer review draft, I integrated the perspective of a psychologist, an academic scholar and the Chief Information Officer of a security consulting firm to discuss the effect of publicizing the violence of ISIS. The information from these sources included psychological and quantitative analysis and the opinion of a credible authority, respectively.

To improve upon the earlier drafts of the case study, I focused on a slightly different kind of synthesis: integration of media. Professor McIntyre commented on the conference draft that using images and figures could be an effective way to convey information. Because the paper addresses the effectiveness of the ISIS social media presence as part of the case study section, I felt it would add much to the paper to actually provide a visualization of some of the social media strategy employed by ISIS, rather than simply discuss it. I accomplished this by including Figure 1 in the introduction section. The image is striking. Brightly colored lettering stands out against a dark background. There is no pixilation and the image is high-quality. It supports the assertion that ISIS uses digital technology to great effect. I also synthesized another visualization with textual evidence in my use of Figure 2, a chart that demonstrates the large percentage of online discussion thread users who view the U.S. State Department outreach efforts negatively. Again, this information is best communicated through a medium other than just text, so I combined the chart with a brief text description to round it out.

In the third project, synthesis issues did not come up in the conference comments. My optimistic interpretation of this is that my ability to synthesize information has increased throughout the course. The definitional text portion of the project involves synthesis of several media: statistics, charts and graphs, images, written word, icons, a poster, a cartoon, videos and quotations. I think that the ties that bind these varied media together were the brief textual descriptions that accompanied the icons and other portions, as well as the quick take in the beginning. It was important to include different types of media because of the complexity of the definition. For example, the cost of the War on Terror was best represented by a chart that can display quantitative data. The gravest danger of the War on Terror, conversely, is represented by a quotation on the last block of the text. By placing the various media side by side when the information they relay is related, they are effectively synthesized.

Also in the third project, besides types of media, I synthesized sources. Similarly to the second project, qualitative and quantitative data both provided important pieces of the definition. This meant that varied sources were included, as certain types of organizations and individuals tend to produce more of either quantitative or qualitative data.

Overall, I see a positive trend in my synthesis work. With each project, it felt easier and became more natural to synthesize sources and information. I believe synthesis is a crucial writing skill because it allows for elegant presentation of complex ideas and I am thankful to be able to take it with me and incorporate it into my future writing.

High School Personal Writing: College Essay

When my face broke the surface, I was gasping for air.  The water was cold, and unexpectedly so since it was the middle of the summer.  I splashed around in a panic.  I could say that I was just startled by the temperature, but that would not be the truth.

I have been afraid of swimming in the ocean since I was quite young and I know why – the ocean is endless and, in some ways, unknowable.  I cannot help but feel consumed by its enormity.  For someone who often responds to inquiries about future career paths with “marine biologist,” this seems paradoxical.  But I see it another way.

I am fearful because I respect the power of the ocean and all of the creatures it holds in its depths.  And some good old-fashioned, healthy fear of something does not mean that there is no love for that thing.  For the ocean is also the place in which I am perfectly content.

Descending from the turbulent surface, I am calm.  The water does not slap my face or sting my nose.  Air escapes from my regulator, hissing and racing to the surface as perfect silver spheres.  The ocean is endless, but it feels safe now.  The depths of the ocean are a refuge from the chaos of the surface and a place of serenity.

This is the last dive in order to complete my advanced open water certification.  The final stop is one hundred and eight feet.  We pause to test for nitrogen narcosis, which can addle any unsuspecting diver’s brain at depth.  My dive buddy is the first victim.  Parker cannot add the two fingers our instructor held up on his left hand with the two on his right and respond by holding up four of his own.  Instead, he holds up three.  I am not too worried, though, because his state is transient, and I am transfixed, observing the elegance of the two hammerhead sharks that swim slowly below us, long bodies moving back and forth; the vigor of the hundreds of brightly colored butterfly fish weaving in and out, swirling and racing; and the simple magnificence of the brain coral cemented to the adjacent reef wall.  Life is everywhere.  The sea thrums with energy even at a depth to which few humans will ever venture.

Few colors were visible there.  Out of the visible light spectrum, ROY had disappeared, leaving only GBIV, the greens and blues.  Red begins to fade at 15 feet.  Orange and yellow are gone by 30.  The longer wavelengths of the weaker colors prevent them from reaching very far.  It is surprising, but true, that the passing of these colors does nothing to dim the splendor of this place.  I am at peace, residing at the intersection of adventure and otherworldly beauty.




High School Evidence-Based Writing: English Essay

Lexi Curnin

Ms. Heath

AP American Literature

3 December 2013

A Look Through The Inverted Telescope

Although one may think that residing comfortably near to the top of the Manhattan social pyramid guarantees inclusion, the protagonist of Edith Wharton’s Age Of Innocence, Newland Archer, comes to find himself on the psychological fringe despite his wealth and lofty familial status, isolated by the unique attitudes about life and love he develops after falling for Ellen Olenska.  By presenting Newland’s emotional defeat at the end of the novel, despite his conscious attempt to diverge from societal rules, Wharton demonstrates the inescapability of high society and its nature as a hindrance to free thought.

In the beginning of the novel, Newland Archer seems every bit as stuffy as the members of society he is surrounded by, but his outlook begins to change with the arrival of Countess Ellen Olenska, returned from Europe.  His image was formerly of the utmost importance to him: he arrived late to the Opera because it was “the thing” to do (Wharton 4) and “few things [seemed to him] more awful than an offense against ‘Taste’” (Wharton 12).  When Ellen, the black sheep of the Mingott family, made an appearance at the Opera, Archer at first becomes annoyed that this “strange foreign woman” was attracting negative attention to the box of his betrothed, May Welland, and agrees with fellow high society onlooker, Sillerton Jackson, that the Mingotts should not have “tried it on” (Wharton 10).  But, upon spending time with Ellen, Archer’s pretentiousness begins to dull and his self-alienation from the rules of society begins.  During a dinner with Sillerton Jackson, Archer defends Ellen and even goes so far as to say that “Women ought to be free – as free as we are,” though he was painfully aware of the “terrific consequences” his words could bring (Wharton 34).  Archer later exclaims that he does not care “a brass farthing” for family during a discussion of familial status with his sister, Janey (Wharton 70).  When Ellen’s husband expresses a desire to have her return to him, Archer insists that he would “rather see her dead” than return to him, an opinion that is a far cry from the wish of exemplary members of society, the Mingotts and Wellands, that she reconcile with the Count.  By illustrating this transformation in the beginning of the novel, Wharton is setting the reader up to notice when Newland is ultimately unable to truly separate himself from the grip of society.

After his eyes are opened by the antithesis of proper society, Ellen Olenska, Archer cannot help but begin to notice how perfectly his life parallels that of any consummate high society man.  For Archer, May comes to represent everything Ellen was not, and even society itself.  She was, indeed, the “terrifying product of the social system he belonged to,” perhaps even the living embodiment of it (Wharton 35).  And, accordingly, May had been “carefully trained not to possess” the “freedom of judgment” that Archer now believed he had.  However, though Archer has realized that he was simply going through life like all the other society men before him and wants to “strike out,” he has seen “enough of other men who dreamed his dream… and who had gradually sunk into the placid and luxurious routine of their elders” to know that the “dream” he envisions for himself rarely comes to fruition (Wharton 68, 103).  In this phrasing, Wharton is foreshadowing Archer’s descent into the appropriate high society lifestyle he dreads so much and the inescapability of that destiny.  This statement eventually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Wharton uses the character foils Ellen Olenska and M. Rivière to highlight the degree to which Archer remains tethered to the societal rules he so desperately wants to escape.  Though Archer breaks with “form” on several occasions involving Ellen, including his following her to Skuytercliff, kissing her while engaged to May, and lying to May in order to visit Ellen in Washington D.C., it becomes clear that he is unable to fully remove himself from the world that is keeping him from his love.  Realizing that he can never be with Ellen, Archer insists that he and May marry sooner, hoping the wedding would remove the temptation he felt.  This, however, only worsened the situation, as the wedding failed to extinguish the passion between him and Ellen and created another obstacle.  Archer’s marriage to May and the unspoken rules of society made it so that even when alone together, Archer and Countess Olenska were “so chained to their separate destinies that they might as well have been half the world apart” (Wharton 200).  From M. Rivière as well, Archer was miles apart.  While May represents society, Ellen Olenska and M. Rivière represent the opposite and are therefore unfit for Manhattan life.  When Rivière expressed his desire to move to Archer’s New York, Archer thought to himself, “[Rivière’s] very superiorities and advantages would be the surest hindrance to success” (Wharton 165).  These superiorities are Rivière’s “intellectual liberty” and “moral freedom:” two things not commonly possessed by those in who run with Archer’s crowd (Wharton 164, 165).  It is these two things that Archer longed for but never fully acquired.

In the end, Archer is the man “to whom nothing was ever going to happen” (Wharton 186).  His relationship with the Countess was ended abruptly by the treachery of the embodiment of society herself, May Welland, who informed the Countess of her pregnancy prematurely in order to keep her away from Archer.  Archer then lived out the rest of his youth and beyond with May until her death, bound by “duty” and little else.  When Archer visits Paris with his son Dallas, he suddenly recollects his time with Ellen and is forced “to deal all at once with the packed regrets and stifled memories of an inarticulate lifetime” (Wharton 294).  Without the freedom that society had robbed him of, Archer was unable to be with Ellen.  He had lived a “starved” life and when he returned to Paris, nothing had changed.  Though he was technically free from his marriage to May, Archer did not go up to Ellen’s apartment that evening.  He had buckled under the yoke of the innumerable, unquantifiable rules of society.  The ropes binding him to May, and to the rules of society, for all of those years had left deep scars.

Although Archer had high hopes for himself, he was unable to live the life apart from Manhattan society that he desired.  Wharton summarizes perfectly the nature of society with the following: “If one had habitually breathed the New York air, then there were times when anything less crystalline seemed stifling” (Wharton 77).  Archer, despite his transformation at the hands of Ellen Olenska and an inspiration in M. Rivière, was suffocated by the absence of the rules that laid everything out so clearly and ultimately, made things simpler.  Even though he was freed from his commitment to May by her death, he was not truly free because once one learns to abide by the rules of society, it becomes far easier to swim with the current than to break free.  So, that night in Paris, Archer walked back to the hotel alone, unable to sever the cord tethering him to the rules that had governed his life since birth.



Project 1 Pre-Drafting Materials

  • May have to also look at governments taking down propaganda
  • NO evaluation of effectiveness, instead, look at why people trying to take down social media sites – maybe have different reasons…
    • Particular anti-propaganda reasons
    • Anonymous is upset over Paris
    • Not good use of efforts/resources

  • Twitter study

  • People convicted for affiliation with ISIS

  • Twitter struggling to keep up with ISIS accts
  • “Further investigation revealed a process where once an account was shut down by Twitter because of improper content, a new account with a similar name was almost instantly created. This new user handle was then promoted by other ISIS-related Twitter accounts. In this way, the ISIS supporters are able to circumvent the ongoing efforts by Twitter to remove them.”

  • Think Again Turn Away = petty Twitter war, engaging with ISIS there is inappropriate

  • Vulnerable young girl targeted by ISIS

  • Planned social media campaign

  • ISIS site replaced by Prozac ad

  • Site is way to report extremists’ websites, to be verified, then taken down

  • DigitaShadow
  • GhostSec

  • GhostSec female presence

  • Anti-ISIS twitters

  • How vigilantes are fighting ISIS
  • Some ties to Anonymous, many lone wolves
  • Effort heavily focused on Twitter
  • “Whether this vigilantism is significantly suppressing the use of Twitter by the Islamic State also has yet to be understood.”

  • Group claims intercepted messages
  • How many accts have been removed 59,000
  • GhostSec has 12 core members and 100s volunteers
  • “forcibly remove content where official channels fail”

  • Story of individual guy, founded CtrlSec, which is no longer affiliated with Anonymous
  • Many death threats to the guy
  • 130 websites down
  • Overwhelm servers with fake traffic
  • Claims to have foiled attack in Tunisia
  • Don’t use algorithm, track accts manually
  • 200-600 accts identified daily
  • Suspended users just make new accounts – argue they still suffered lost time/effort
  • “Mikro claimed that since February, CtrlSec has helped remove 60,000 to 70,000 pro-ISIS Twitter account”
  • Critized for accidentally shutting down non-ISIS accts

  • “whack-a-mole.” = pointless to target accts
  • Suspensions got big guys
  • ISIS making more and more accts
  • Accounts becoming more insular/tightly knit

  • What we do know, based on an analysis of tens of thousands of Twitter accounts, is that suspensions do limit the audience for ISIS’s gruesome propaganda.

  • Explains CtrlSec twitter bot using algorithm to flag accts
  • Won’t do much but worth it to fight

  • Review of study
  • “Minimum of 46,000 Twitter accounts operate on behalf of the Islamic State
  • Some say presence isn’t big comparatively, another guy says bigger than may seem

  • Study with lots of numbers
    1. Individual guy, founded CtrlSec, which is no longer affiliated with Anonymous
    2. Don’t use algorithm, track accts manually
    3. 200-600 accts identified daily
    4. Suspended users just make new accounts – argue they still suffered lost time/effort
    5. “Mikro claimed that since February, CtrlSec has helped remove 60,000 to 70,000 pro-ISIS Twitter account”
    6. Criticized for accidentally shutting down non-ISIS accts


Project 1 Final Draft

As the Islamic State gains control over vast amounts of territory in the Middle East in hopes of creating a caliphate, it is becoming an increasing threat to the region, and potentially to the United States (Michek and Misztal). According to an overview given by the Bipartisan Policy Center, the radical jihadist organization, formed in 2000, has accrued an estimated 17,000 fighters (Michek and Misztal). A small, though significant, number of these fighters are citizens of the United States and several European nations (Michek and Misztal). Investigation into how and why Westerners are joining ranks with ISIS has revealed the group’s unprecedented ability to use various social media channels to disseminate recruitment and propaganda material. A post on the Brookings Institute blog written by Javier Lesaca, a visiting scholar to George Washington University, elaborates, “Analysis of the digital audiovisual campaigns released by ISIS since January 2014 suggests that ISIS has established a new kind of terrorism, using marketing and digital communication tools not only for ‘socializing terror’ through public opinion as previous terrorist groups did, but also for making terror popular, desirable, and imitable.” Their success in this regard, particularly on Twitter, has raised enough concern that efforts to combat their online presence are taking shape on several fronts, led by governmental organizations and hackers alike. The U.S. government has launched a program through the State Department to respond directly to pro-ISIS tweets. Hackers have flagged sympathetic accounts for suspension, flooded their most popular hashtags with spam, and monitored the communications between members to screen for information relevant to homeland security. Whether these methods have been effective against ISIS activity is a source of much contention and is the topic of exploration in this literature review.

The efforts of the United States government against ISIS on Twitter began in 2011, when President Obama signed an executive order establishing the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) as a subset of the State Department. Judson Berger, a Fox News correspondent covering national security, quoted an official from the department itself as saying it hopes to offer “alternate perspectives to the misguided ideological justifications for using violence” through its Think Again Turn Away Twitter campaign. Since its launch, the account has tweeted in the English language roughly 11,000 times to over 25,000 followers. In a Think Progress article by Hayes Brown, a former contractor at the Department of Homeland Security, former State Department official Will McCants explains that these tweets constitute an effort to overlay the radical Islamic material on the site and “blunt the recruitment pitches online.”

Though most scholars believe confronting ISIS using of social media online is crucial, there exists doubt as to the value of the State Department’s Twitter campaign. Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group for studying online extremist behavior, conducted a thorough examination of the methodology employed by Think Again Turn Away and views the program as deeply flawed. The Twitter account is designed to act in two ways: by directly engaging with pro-ISIS accounts, or trolling and by tweeting counter-material (Katz). Katz goes so far as to call the first method of engaging extremists on Twitter “ridiculous.” Her complaints center on the fact that each Think Again Turn Away tweet responding to ISIS propaganda provides Jihadists a platform to further articulate their ideas. Perhaps the most egregious example of these blunders occurred on August 6, 2015, when Think Again Turn Away responded to a tweet from a pro-ISIS account called Amreeki Witness, stating “IS has flaws, but the moment you claim they cut off the heads of every non-Muslim they see, the discussion is over” (Katz). Though the tweet was not addressed to the State Department, Think Again Turn Away tweeted back, “#ISIS tortures, crucifies & shoots some- ISIS also gives ultimatums to Christians: convert, pay or die- Some flaws u say?” (Katz). A lengthy “series of rebuttals” followed, providing Amreeki Witness a stage to expound on radical views. Katz explains, “The Think Again Turn Away account, instead of ignoring the claims of a pro-IS jihadist, dignified them by responding.” By engaging in “petty” Twitter wars with this and other similar accounts, the U.S. State Department is lending legitimacy to low-level Jihadists and aiding the promulgation of their extremist sentiment (Katz).

Due to the account’s numerous inaccuracies concerning the second method of disseminating counter-material, several sources in addition to Katz express a similarly negative sentiment. According to Joshua Keating, an international affairs reporter for Slate, Think Again Turn Away has tweeted several stories based on flimsy evidence or containing false information since its inception (Keating). One such example is a May 12, 2015 tweet providing a link to a story about forced female circumcision of two million women in Mosul, Iraq (Keating). The story was already one-year-old at the time, but beyond its lack of timeliness, the claim it makes had already been refuted by several journalistic sources in the area (Brown). Samuel Oakford, the UN correspondent for VICE News, cites a similar incident as further evidence of the account’s inaccuracy. On May 11, 2015, Think Again Turn Away tweeted an unconfirmed British tabloid article stating that girls kidnapped by ISIS frequently commit suicide (Oakford). Keating argues that by circulating stories like these that are untrue, the State Department is damaging its own credibility. Additionally, he suggests that highlighting atrocities perpetrated by ISIS, even when based solidly in fact, is at best harmless and at worst “may be selling points rather than deterrents for prospective ISIS members.”

Some content on the Think Again Turn Away Twitter feed may, however, have a positive impact. For example, Keating argues that a story posted about a young woman from the UK who came to deeply regret her decision to join ISIS once confronted with the extreme violence of the group could conceivably deter potential new members from joining with its powerful appeal to emotion. The State Department account also regularly tweets about acts of extreme violence and brutality perpetrated by ISIS, as well as information regarding successful counter-measures. Just after the recent ISIS attack on Jakarta, Indonesia, the account tweeted about the successful arrests of several terrorists involved in the attack and retweeted a message with the trending Indonesian hashtag #KamiTidakTakut, meaning “we are not afraid” (@ThinkAgain_DOS). In Brown’s article, McCants is also quoted as saying, “at least this way, we’re offering some American perspective and shooting down some of the more egregious examples.” Though Keating notes that measuring just how much hope inspired by these tweets is impossible, McCants puts forward that simply making available non-extremist perspectives is valuable in and of itself.

Other, non-official efforts to staunch the spread of extremist ideology are also taking place on Twitter. Many vigilante hackers have taken up patrol, searching for accounts of ISIS sympathizers, recruiters and fighters. Rick Gladstone, a frequent reporter for the New York Times foreign desk, explains that once found, the names of suspected accounts are broadcast via blacklists on the hackers’ own accounts. This is meant to encourage other Twitter users to report the accounts for violations that would serve as grounds for suspension or deletion by Twitter, including graphic violence and threats (Gladstone). According to an article written for the International Business Times, an in-depth digital global news publication, many hackers are moving away from lone-wolf status and are becoming affiliated with organizations like Anonymous, GhostSec and CntrlSec, all of which have taken up arms within the past year against ISIS online (Cuthbertson). The same article quotes a spokesperson for GhostSec as having said, “To date our operations have met with resounding success…We have terminated over 57,000 Islamic State social media accounts that were used for recruitment purposes and transmission of threats against life and property” (Cuthberston). This movement began when Jihadists began posting gruesome photos of beheadings and picked up speed after many hackers became outraged by the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris (Gladstone).

The activity of ISIS on Twitter, however, suggests that the group has not taken these measures lying down. Lists of hackers are circulated in the group’s Twitter circles to aid in evasion and users are encouraged to switch account handles if they suspect they’ve been reported (Gladstone). A study conducted by Recorded Future CTO and geopolitical intelligence writer Staffan Truvé raised concerns that the thousands suspensions are a drop in the bucket compared to the estimated 60,000 accounts that openly support the radical group (Truvé). The data from the study suggests that once an account is shut down by Twitter after being reported, a new account with a similar handle is promptly created and promoted by many other ISIS supporters (Truvé). New extremist content is then rapidly circulated within the vast network of sympathizers (Truvé). Based on this evidence, the study concludes that Twitter cannot keep up with the pace at which ISIS is able to expand and rebuild its network on the site (Truvé). Due to the evasive action taken by ISIS on Twitter, Gladstone is similarly unwilling to ascribe success to the rash of account terminations.

Besides simply being ineffective, the pro-ISIS account suspensions may produce measurable negative effects. “The ISIS Twitter Census,” a study by J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan of the Brookings Institute, demonstrated that the suspension of these accounts has caused the ISIS Twitter network to become “more internally focused.” This means that as the network continues to face outward pressure, its supporters will interact more exclusively with each other and less with people outside the network (Berger and Morgan). The study explains the effect this could have as follows: “there is a risk that the more focused and coherent group dynamic could speed and intensify the radicalization process” (Berger and Morgan). This potential outcome of the demonstrated internalization of pro-ISIS accounts, however, requires further research to be considered conclusive.

Contrary to the findings of Truvé and the reservations of Gladstone, material from “The ISIS Twitter Census” also suggests that The Twitter suspensions are creating several positive effects. By monitoring thousands of accounts affiliated with ISIS, the authors of the study estimate that 10% of the online activity of the extremist group is currently devoted to recouping the damage done to their network by mass suspensions (Berger and Morgan). This figure was calculated by considering only the frequency of the promotion of new accounts (Berger and Morgan). It did not include time spent discussing the suspensions or developing recovery strategy, both of which would contribute to an even larger amount of time spent rebuilding (Berger and Morgan). One of the hackers working to carry out the suspensions, @TheDoctor, agrees, “Basically our work not only cripples their ability to spread propaganda, but also wastes their time” (Gladstone). ISIS themselves referred to the suspensions as “devastating” and stress the importance of creating replacement accounts in a document circulated by supporters (Berger and Morgan). The study also noted that several of the suspended accounts were maintained by “some of the most active and effective users in the network” (Berger and Morgan). These suspensions detract from ISIS’ ability to recruit members and spread propaganda by forcing them to create replacement accounts and recover followers (Berger and Morgan). Despite ISIS’ efforts to rebuild, the Brookings study suggests that suspensions are “outpacing the number of new accounts successfully created, possibly by a wide margin” (Berger). The number of new accounts created after a string of suspensions in September of 2014 dropped considerably, though the suspensions continued to increase in number (Berger and Morgan).

Beyond the examination of account suspension and replacement, the Brookings study also investigated the prevalence of the most common hashtags used by ISIS. The most popular hashtag, the name of ISIS in Arabic, was tweeted 40,000 times a day when suspensions began in September (Berger and Morgan). By February, it was being tweeted fewer than 5,000 times a day (Berger and Morgan). This may be due to the efforts of hacktivists who commandeer ISIS hashtags by incorporating them into their own anti-ISIS messages, which are tweeted at five times the rate of the pro-ISIS tweets containing the same hashtag, making the ISIS messages less visible (Berger and Morgan). One example of this is cited by Mark Molloy, Social Media Content Editor at the Telegraph. The effort, nicknamed #RickRollDaesh, consisted of many Anonymous members tweeting hyperlinks to seemingly pro-ISIS material that actually led to a video of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” thwarting the ability of ISIS to use their usual hashtags to their advantage for a time (Molloy).

Besides simply working toward the suspension of pro-ISIS Twitter accounts, hackers monitor the content featured on the accounts in hopes of uncovering valuable intelligence. The BBC Trending blog, which covers on world news and why it matters, reports that one group in particular, GhostSec, has broken off from Anonymous because they felt its members had insufficient counter-terrorism experience to monitor ISIS’ online presence in a meaningful way (Wendling). One member of GhostSec, DigitaShadow, claims the group prevented a repeat terrorist attack on the island of Djerba in Tunisia by intercepting messages on Twitter between ISIS members referencing a suicide bomber in a densely inhabited area near the Homut Souk market (Cuthbertson). Though some of the Tweets existed for only minutes before being deleted, vigilant GhostSec hackers caught them and passed along the information to Michael Smith of the Kronos Advisory, a security consultant group. Smith then forwarded the threats to the appropriate authorities (Wendling). According to DigitaShadow, this information led to seventeen arrests (Cuthbertson). The group also has said it played a role in foiling an Independence Day attack in New York (Cuthbertson). Though it is difficult to verify the claims made by GhostSec, Djerba was revealed to be on a list of ISIS targets in July of 2015 and ten arrests were made in New York leading up to the July 4, 2015 holiday, indicating that the group’s measures have been met with some success (Cuthbertson).

Though the nature of online communities can make it difficult to gauge the effects of the multitude of measures being taken by the United States government and hackers against ISIS on Twitter, it can be said that different methods have been greeted with varying levels of approval. The State Department’s Think Again Turn Away was condemned as not only ineffective, but harmful and damaging to the reputation of the United States. It is possible, however, that some content on the account creates a sense of hope and helps demonstrate the atrocity of the Islamic State organization. The evidence behind methods employed by hackers against ISIS suggests they may be more successful that the Think Again Turn Away account. By monitoring furtive Twitter messages, GhostSec helped prevent at least one terror attack. And evidence suggests that the mass suspensions carried out on Twitter are decreasing the capacity for the ISIS accounts to spread propaganda and recruitment material. There exists, however, no broad determination of the overall success of efforts against the presence of ISIS on Twitter, leaving much to the unknown.

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 4.51.58 PM

Note: This is a revised version that addresses these comments.

Works Cited

Berger, J.M. “Social Media Crackdown Hits ISIS Supporters.” CNN. Cable News Network, 2 Apr. 2015. Web. 16 Jan. 2016.

Berger, J.M., and Morgan, Jonathon. “The ISIS Twitter Census: Defining and Describing the Population of ISIS Supporters on Twitter.” The Brookings Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World (n.d.): n. pag. Brookings Institution. Web. Mar. 2015.

Berger, Judson. “State Department Enters Propaganda War with ISIS.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 09 Sept. 2014. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.

Brown, Hayes. “Meet The State Department Team Trying To Troll ISIS Into Oblivion.” ThinkProgress RSS. Center for American Progress Action Fund, 18 Sept. 2014. Web. 16 Jan. 2016.

Brown, Hayes. “No, ISIS Isn’t Ordering Female Genital Mutilation In Iraq.” ThinkProgress RSS. Center for American Progress Action Fund, 24 July 2014. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.

Cuthbertson, Anthony. “Anonymous Affiliate GhostSec Thwarts Isis Terror Plots in New York and Tunisia.” International Business Times RSS. N.p., 22 July 2015. Web. 16 Jan. 2016.

Gladstone, Rick. “Behind a Veil of Anonymity, Online Vigilantes Battle the Islamic State.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 Mar. 2015. Web. 16 Jan. 2016.

Katz, Rita. “The State Department’s Twitter War With ISIS Is Embarrassing.” Time. Time, 16 Sept. 2014. Web. 16 Jan. 2016.

Keating, Joshua. “The U.S. Government’s Anti-ISIS Twitter Account Is Full of Tabloid Garbage.” Slate. The Slate Group, 12 May 2015. Web. 16 Jan. 2016.

Lesaca, Javier. “On Social Media, ISIS Uses Modern Cultural Images to Spread Anti-modern Values.” Brookings. The Brookings Institution, 24 Sept. 2015. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.

Molloy, Mark. “RickRolled: Anonymous Use Rick Astley in War against Terrorism.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 25 Nov. 2015. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

Michek, Jessica, and Misztal, Blaise. “An Overview of ISIS and the U.S. Response.” Bipartisan Policy Center. N.p., 25 Sept. 2014. Web.

Samuel Oakford (@samueloakford). The US State Department is tweeting unsubstantiated articles from British tabloids about Yazidi suicides:. May 11, 2015, 4:26 PM. Tweet.

Think Again Turn Away (@ThinkAgain_DOS). Indonesians show ‪#resilience on social media after ‪#JakartaAttacks w/ hashtag ‪#KamiTidakTakut (We are not afraid). January 15, 2016, 4:20PM. Tweet.

Truvé, Staffan. “ISIS Jumping from Account to Account, Twitter Trying to Keep Up.” Recorded Future. N.p., 03 Sept. 2014. Web. 16 Jan. 2016.

Wendling, Mike. “Ghost Security Group: ‘Spying’ on Islamic State Instead of Hacking Them.” BBC News. BBC Trending, 23 Nov. 2015. Web. 16 Jan. 2016.

Project 2 Pre-Drafting Materials


  • Underfunded
  • Difficulty in reaching audience
    • The difficulty remains that much of the target audience of the current Think Again Turn Away account already has such a strong anti-American bias that it will likely take much more than an American government-sponsored Twitter account to sway their opinion.
  • Policy is difficult
    • Benjamin
  • Plans for the future?
    • Washington Post
  1. Rise of ISIS in general
  2. Ability to make terror appealing online
  3. Ability to release a lot of material in many languages
  4. ISIS on Twitter
  5. ISIS on other sites
  6. Creation of CSCC
  7. TATA Twitter
  8. TATA Twitter helps spread IS sentiment
  9. TATA Twitter is embarrassingly inaccurate
  10. TATA Twitter may serve as an attractant rather than deterrent
  11. TATA Twitter may be an emotional deterrent
  12. TATA Twitter may be good simply because it puts counter-material out there
  13. TATA YouTube
  14. Failure of “Welcome to the ‘Islamic State’ Land”
  15. TATA
  16. Conclusion
    1. Backfire effect
    2. Embarrassing
    3. Pointless
    4. Not really paid attention to besides for its flaws
    5. Maybe hope, maybe good to put out there
    6. Hopeless
      1. Underfunded
      2. Misguided
        1. “Don’t argue with a moron”
  • Difficult for State Department to compete “lure is strong”
  1. Daniel Benjamin discussion
    1. “To tell the truth, I don’t think we’ve learned a lot from this experience”
    2. “I also don’t think there has been a serious conversation about what one achieves through messaging, as opposed to other kinds of intervention, such as counseling.  It’s a very difficult area of policy.”
  1. Big Picture Think Again Turn Away
    1. Very limited resources/budget
      1. ABC News
      2. Washington Post – compare w/ that of Pentagon
    2. Own guy says could be doing more
      1. NPR
    3. Don’t argue with a moron
      1. NPR
    4. Conclusion – is this effort hopeless?
      1. Difficult for State Department to compete “lure is strong”
        1. Washington Post
        2. NPR
      2. Just a mole hill
        1. NPR
      3. Creation of Information Coordination Cell and end of TATA
        1. Washington Post
        2. Plans for the future – Washington Post panel article