Support for IS higher in Europe, US than Syria and Iraq

Study of Arabic-speaking social media users uncovers widespread international popularity of jihadist group, including in Israel

An Islamic State recruitment video calls on others to join in their holy war (screen capture: Youtube)
An Islamic State recruitment video calls on others to join in their holy war (screen capture: Youtube)

A new study of posts from Arabic-speaking social media users has uncovered that support for the brutal Islamic State terrorist organization is higher in Belgium, France, the United Kingdom and the United States than it is in Iraq and Syria — the two countries partially controlled by the jihadist group.

The Italian study analyzed over two million Twitter and Facebook posts related to Islamic State in Arabic in a three-and-a-half month period starting in July 2014.

According to a report published Thursday by the Guardian, 19.7 percent of the analyzed posts originating from Iraq and 7.6% of posts from Syria were supportive of the Islamic State, compared to Belgium (31.0%), the United Kingdom (23.8%), the United States (21.4%) and France (20.8%).

Germany (15.7%), Canada (15.3%) and Israel (13.4%) were also the source of a significant proportion of posts supportive of the terror group, which has carried out widespread ethic cleansing, suicide attacks, mass killings of prisoners, beheadings, torture, and other extremist violence.

The Shin Bet estimates that some 30 Israelis have actually gone and joined the fighting in Syria since the eruption of the civil war in the country in March 2011. The vast majority of such recruits come from fundamentalist Salafi backgrounds and are affiliated with jihadist organizations such as the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front, both internationally recognized as terror groups.

The Islamic State has established a non-recognized religious caliphate in the area between Iraq and Syria it currently controls and has brought vicious law and order tactics based in Sharia law to its subjects.

Rights groups have strongly criticized the group for human rights abuses and radically repressive measures against women and religious minorities.

Although most posts about the group were largely negative in nature, posts from Qatar (47.6%) and Pakistan (35.1%) were the most supportive of IS, while posts originating in Iran (5.8%), a country with a large Shiite majority currently at war with the Sunni rebel group, were the least supportive of all the countries listed in the report.

It should be noted that the study only analyzed posts about the Islamic State in Arabic, so the group’s popularity was not measured in posts written in different languages.

Dr. Luigi Curini of Voices from the Blogs, a company founded by academics at Milan University, has been on the forefront of a new form of analysis of online opinions and postulated that those closest to IS were more likely to harbor negative sentiments about the group.

In conjunction with statistician Stefano Iacus, political scientist Andrea Ceron and host of translators, Curini also uncovered a range of polarizing opinions about the Islamic State’s legitimacy and religious authority.

The team also compared the content of 90,000 news articles on IS from a host of countries analyzed in the study to the posts of Arabic speakers about the group, discovering little to no correlation to the opinions of official and state-run media sources and the sentiments of social media users.

“By analyzing social media we can see there is not always this homogeneous sentiment against [the Islamic State],” Curini was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

A detailed dissection of the study has shown that posts in support of the Islamic State often lauded the group’s perceived ability of “defending Islam” (37.5%), spreading the Islamic faith (26.2%) and state building (17.4%), while posts that expressed negative opinions of the group chided the Islamic State for using religion for political aims (32.8%), violence (28.9%), and attacking personal and religious freedoms (17.0%).

Only 8.3% of posts in favor of the group expressed support for fighting the West, while merely 4.7% of posts deriding the Islamic State criticized their widespread use of terrorism.

The Islamic State has arguably the most pervasive online presence of any extremist group in history and relies heavily on the Internet to build international support and recruit operatives.

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