The current ‘post-caliphate’ era of Islamic State (IS) has been widely discussed in recent years, following the organisation’s loss of territory and administrative control. Prospects for IS to survive, transform, and regain prominence again can, to some extent, be evaluated through the significant amount of online supporters; who are willing to amplify the IS brand and contribute to exposure, outreach, and development of new recruitment methods. However, what is the current state of the IS online communities, and in which direction are they heading?
A quick search for academic contributions that focuses on the digital and social media aspects of IS – both in outreach and supporter network dynamics – provides a wealth of publications. The ‘virtual caliphate’ is defined as the mediatised version of the 2014 self-declared caliphate project. The online communities are consistent, persistent, and still attract a vast number of supporters today. Propaganda production and distribution, religious narratives, emerging and maintained ideological discourses through conversations among supporters, and as structures and hierarchies in the online communities are all included in the digital realm and ecosystem of the ‘virtual caliphate’. For years, it has served as a lens through which the physical caliphate – primarily Iraq and Syria – could be recognised and understood. However, since the destruction of the administrative and territorial state in 2018, the virtual universe surrounding and amplifying the caliphate has deviated from its original path. In the current post-caliphate era, the multitude of online spheres demonstrates a lack of direction entwined with common ground fragmentation.