How IS succeeds on social media where #StopKony fails

A multitude of sites now actively try to make their material go “viral,” but most attempts fail because it’s almost impossible to predict how any given thing will play on social media. And while true virality can’t be engineered, it is possible to stack the deck. The Islamic State has done so expertly. It’s massive investment in social media, including a team of roughly 2,000 dedicated accounts tweeting in a coordinated manner, succeeds primarily because it generates just barely enough activity to get the attention of the mainstream media, which then creates the perception that IS has a larger base of supporters than it does. IS’ advantage comes from its ability to bridge the space between a social network and network news, a leap fueled largely by its extreme sadism and its choice of media-friendly victims.

There’s a pretty substantial presence of ISIS supporters on Twitter and their content continues to be available, but they’ve lost the ability to broadcast that content out into a wider audience and that’s a pretty significant change.

J.M Berger, a research fellow at the Brookings Institution

Groups like IS will increasingly try to force their agenda on the interconnected world, using technical trickery and media gamesmanship to create the appearance of strength. While they might get lucky now and then, this is ultimately a losing game, experts say, since the audience will soon begin to see the exaggeration. Even at their peak, ISIS beheading videos never performed at a level comparable to #BringBackOurGirls. The group may stumble on to a truly viral sensation by chance, or through practice, but its daily process is plodding and methodical, patiently racking up gains on a scale of dozens, not millions.