The extremist Islamic State group has worked the Internet to it’s advantage from the very start of its campaign in Iraq. Locals have lagged behind. But now, some say, they are coming together online to fight back.
Shortly after the extremist group known as the Islamic State took over the northern city of Mosul last June, the Iraqi government shut down various forms of online social media and Internet services. It was supposed to halt the transmission of sensitive and intimidating material being transmitted between the Islamic State, or IS, group, their supporters and potential enemies.
But it didn’t really work, says Iraqi blogger and activist Tahseen al-Zarkani. “The former Iraqi government made a big mistake by blocking those sites,” he told NIQASH. “Because they basically left the IS group alone online, to occupy Facebook and Twitter, with their own propaganda.”
Ordinary Iraqis could only access these sites with difficulty and nobody else was able to put out any information about what was really happening in Iraq; so all the news people were getting was one sided and made the IS group look victorious.
“Iraqi activists were defeated before the battle for social media even began,” al-Zarkani says. “At first they were helpless and really didn’t know what to do. But this has changed. Local activists have been able to get more experience and training to confront the IS group online since then.”
He now believes that Iraq’s online activists have come together, many from different backgrounds, and are trying to counter the IS group’s propaganda and “make up for the opportunity they missed before”.
“Most Iraqi activists tend to use Facebook and only a few of them use Twitter,” says Hisham al-Hashimi, a researcher into armed militias in Iraq who also advises the Iraqi government.