Encrypted Extremism: Inside the English-Speaking Islamic State Ecosystem on Telegram

Telegram, an online instant messaging service popular among adherents of the Islamic State (IS), remains vital to the organization’s ecosystem of communications. The platform’s functional affordances, paired with relatively lax enforcement of Telegram’s terms of service (ToS), offers IS sympathizers a user-friendly medium to engage with like-minded supporters and content.

This report examines 636 pro-IS Telegram channels and groups that contain English-language content collected between June 1, 2017 and October 24, 2018. While this time-bound and linguistically limited sample represents a sliver of the pro-IS ecosystem on Telegram, the subsequent findings have important implications for policymakers assigned to the dual tasks of countering IS’ online foothold and engaging with service providers like Telegram. Among other findings, this report assesses that:

  • English-speaking IS supporters exploit Telegram’s suite of features to communicate with like-minded supporters across the world, disseminate official and unofficial IS media, and provide instructional material for operations.
  • English-speaking IS supporters on Telegram are fundamentally concerned about operational security, but their continued reliance on public outreach results in inconsistent application of operational security measures and exacerbates vulnerabilities.
  • The loss of IS territory and the crackdown against its presence on public-facing platforms forces English-speaking IS supporters to focus on the group’s military activities, ensure resilience of their networks on Telegram, supplement official media with unofficial productions, and develop new measures for online guidance of operations.

IS sympathizers respond to online and offline pressure against IS media by enabling grassroots actors, proliferating unofficial or “gray” media, and distributing operational and instructional material.

Read the paper from GWU’s Program on Extremism here

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