The social media application Telegram has long been a favourite haunt for the Islamic State's online propaganda distribution networks in the forms of channels like the Nashir News. However, over the past several days Telegram has come down hard on those networks, taking down the familiar channels and then quickly eliminating new copies of those channels and bots in a bid to disrupt Islamic State propaganda distribution. The latest initiative has involved cooperation with Europol. These developments have not escaped the notice of the Islamic State's official media apparatus.
In the latest issue of the group's weekly newsletter, the editorial does not explicitly mention Telegram but asserts that the attempts to eliminate its content online will ultimately fail (surprise, surprise), and that the 'mujahideen' of media and dissemination will have ways to work around the crackdowns and that the costs of finding solutions is much cheaper than the costs of the crackdown campaigns. In keeping with the Islamic State's prior portrayals of the importance of the group's own media work and broadcasting to convey the true picture of itself, the propaganda creation and dissemination are presented as a form of jihad, which will continue as long as the jihad continues until the rise of the Hour (Day of Judgement).
Personally speaking, I do not see substantial benefits in the latest crackdown, which has even ensnared monstrous researchers such as Aaron Zelin, Caleb Weiss and Thomas Joscelyn. As a disclaimer: I was not targeted, which I partly attribute to the fact I did not zealously pursue every potential new link to an Islamic State propaganda channel. I also follow a variety of things beyond jihadist content and have named myself on Telegram after a certain past king of Italy, rather than adopting a 'jihadist'-sounding pseudonym.
A balance is needed in my view between preventing content from reaching too wide an audience and being kept completely in the dark about the activities of the likes of the Islamic State. Thus, for example, the removal of the Islamic State's official Twitter accounts (a platform that is mostly open access) in 2014 was an important and necessary measure. I can also understand Telegram deletions if, say, Islamic State propaganda channels had tens of thousands of subscribers each. But the reality is deletions have been periodic enough anyway such that individual channels often have no more than a few dozen subscribers at most, are closed access, and have many researchers and journalists among those subscribers. In short, the prior status quo was an acceptable situation.
Too often, it seems, online counter-terrorism simply takes the form of 'delete more content', and is at risk of becoming a substitute for the more important point of combating the likes of the Islamic State on the ground in territories they operate. Remember that the removal of Islamic State's official Twitter accounts in 2014, while important, did not mark the beginning of the decline of the group's power.
In any case, below is the editorial translated by me.
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Victorious in the Media War by God's Permission.
It has been two decades and the mujahideen media still constitute a source of insomnia and oppression for the intelligence apparatuses of the Crusaders and the Tawagheet, as they see themselves always a number of steps behind in this field, unable to silence its voice without harming their information networks that are growing in size and becoming more complicated day after day, and the mujahideen know how to use them well- by the grace of God- in what brings benefit to them and harm to their enemies.
And the most important thing the disbelievers and apostates fear from the impact of this media is that it shows the news of the mujahideen, at a time when they are always focusing on the claims to have destroyed them and put an end to their jihad, just as it publishes the true call of the mujahideen at the time when they are striving to distort their reputation and misconstrue their manhaj in what turns the people away from them. And these two benefits are among the most important bases in the operation of incitement that contributes in attracting more of the Muslims to mobilize and wage jihad, thereby strengthening the rank of the people of faith.
For were it not that God Almighty facilitated for the mujahideen the spread of their call and news through their media, no one of the Muslims would hear of their presence let alone the news of their conquests and their inflicting damage on the idolaters. And the one who hears of them through the media hostile to them, the picture will reach him distorted and false, pushing him to hate them and be hostile to them instead of having affection for them and striving to support them and join them.
And we have seen this matter most clearly- by the grace of God Almighty- during the past years from the age of the Islamic State, for when the jihad arose in al-Sham, and Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Qurashi- may God Almighty accept him- sent his soldiers to support the Muslims there, those pioneers did not find much hardship in calling people to join them and help them, as the Muslims knew of the Islamic State, having review of its manhaj and the call of its soldiers, and thus the group quickly grew, and spread in all the areas, and that was not realized for many of the calls and new groups whose members tried to gain supremacy in the land, and if that was realized for them, it was in areas confined to the extent of their ability to spread their call and make people know of them.
And when the Caliphate was announced, the Muslims rushed from every place to migrate to it, and the mujahideen in different areas pledged allegiance to its amir, after its news reached them, and they knew what it was calling for and doing, and that was despite the great campaigns of distortion that filled the world and failed- thank God- in realizing the will of the disbelievers and apostates to turn the people away from it and alienate them from its banner and group, such that their Tawagheet and seniors have repeatedly acknowledged their defeat in the media war before the Islamic State, and their inability to stop the broadcasting of its news and the spreading of its call in the land.
And they have tried to destroy the media apparatus of the Islamic State over the past years, but they have not been able to do that by the grace of God Almighty alone, despite their targeting with killing and imprisonment the mujahideen of the Diwan al-'Ilam al-Markazi and its media offices, and bombing their bases and media points, and despite the strong application of the stranglehold on the means for them to publish media items, and striving to distort the picture of them and accusing them of deviation from the Shari'a and Sunna.
And through their inability to stop the Islamic State's media from sending information that they do not want to spread, they have directed their efforts to prevent it from reaching the people, through preventing its spread in the networks, and chasing those do that by security means, and terrorizing them through different means to prevent them from doing that. Indeed the matter has got to the point with some of them that it has been made criminal to watch and download media items connected with the Islamic State, and the 'ulama of evil have issued fatwas that even forbid listening to the nasheeds of the soldiers of the Caliphate, but God Almighty has foiled them.
And likewise their efforts to restrict the activities of the ansar who expend great effort in publishing the media items of the mujahideen through different available means have failed. And the most important of them is the wide complex Internet network. That is because of their abundance in number- thank God- and their spread on the ground, which makes the mission of undertaking a broad campaign against them entirely nearer to impossible for them, by the permission of God.
And the Crusaders' intelligence apparatuses continue to announce every now and then their launching of a campaign coordinated between them and in cooperation with the companies that manage the platforms on which the publishing of the mujahideen's media material is active. Their aim is to delete those items, and ban those who publish them, and track the groups through which the mujahideen cooperate in their work. Then they announce results in this particular, in which they compete with each other to inflate them, from deleting the accounts of publishers and freezing their work on different Internet sites, and striking the media channels and groups, and other results connected with this matter.
And they know perfectly well that the issue of the return of the mujahideen to their prior activity and in other ways is merely a matter of time, and that the costs of that upon the mujahideen can hardly be mentioned in comparison with the great material and human costs they expend to restrict the media of the Islamic State, but firstly they only possess these tools in their hands to continue in the media war, and likewise indeed they work to inflict psychological defeat on the mujahideen of the media, in what pushes them in the end to abandon this field, and cease from issuing the media items and the jihad to convey them to the people, but they are also in that- by God's permission- defeated and routed.
And just as the jihad continues to the rise of the Hour and is stopped by nothing- by the power and force of God- the media jihad continues to publish its news, outraging the idolaters and giving glad tidings to the Muslims, and inciting them to mobilize, and strengthening the mujahideen and deflecting the hostility of the disbelievers and apostates away from their honour, and resisting their attacks on their reputation and manhaj, until God Almighty decides between us and the disbelieving people, and praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds.