Fighting Social Media Jihad: An Interview with Joseph Shahda

by Jerry Gordon (November 2014)

Joseph Shahda
Source: New York Times

ISIS Has a Really Slick and Sophisticated Media Department:

In addition to being one of the most brutal militant groups currently fighting in the Middle East, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) might also have the most elaborate public relations strategy.

In addition to the blatant propaganda vibe, the videos have strikingly high production quality — they are shot in HD and include sophisticated graphics and logos. Most of the content is in English, suggesting that they are specifically designed as a recruitment tool for Western audiences.

All of these videos are distributed by Al Hayat Media Center, the new media arm for ISIS that was established in May, 2014. It is unclear exactly who is behind Al Hayat, but it is thought to be an initiative of Abu Talha Al Almani, a former German rapper also known as Deso Dogg, who left Europe to fight alongside ISIS in Syria, according to MEMRI.


“Terror and the Internet” published on March 28, 2008:

The intelligence community, moreover, sounded the alarm about proliferation of radical Islamist sites in a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate: warning that, even absent guidance from established terror organizations, the Internet enables “alienated people to find and connect with one another, justify and intensify their anger, and mobilize resources to attack.”

What is ludicrous is the claim that YouTube has been pressured to pull down videos just because I don’t like them. Al Qaeda and its affiliates are engaged in a wartime communications strategy to recruit, amass funds and inspire savage attacks against American troops and civilians. Their Internet videos are branded with logos, authenticating them as enemy communications. They are patent incitements to violence, not First Amendment-protected speech. And they fall outside Google’s own stated guidelines for content.

The peril here is not to legitimate dissent but to our fundamental right of self-defense. For those of us in government, protecting Americans is the highest responsibility. Asking private parties operating public communications systems to assist that effort is common sense.

Against this background we interviewed Shahda.


Jerry Gordon:  Joseph Shahda, thank you for consenting to this interview.




Joseph Shahda:  Thank you for inviting me.



Jerry Gordon:  How long have you been monitoring Arabic language terrorist and social media on the internet and what have been some important findings?

Joseph Shahda:  I have been monitoring Arabic language terrorist websites and their social media since 2007. The most important findings are that they have used these websites and social media to propagate their terrorist ideology, to widen their support base, to recruit more terrorists to their ranks, and to teach the new recruits how to build bombs, explosives, and other terrorist activities using the websites/social media as their virtual training camps.

Gordon:  What motivates you to continue as a private individual in the effort to identify terrorist exploitation of the internet and social media?

Shahda:  It is my duty as an American to help my country during this long and hard war on terror. I believe that it is very important to monitor the terrorist activities on the internet and better yet shut their websites/social media accounts to prevent the spreading of propaganda, recruitment, and training.

Gordon:  What has changed over the past decade in the use of the Internet by terrorist Groups, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Islamic State?

Shahda:  They are getting more sophisticated and savvy in using the internet to achieve many of their goals. They moved from simple release of media statements, to creating forums with hundreds of thousands of subscribers, to creating hundreds of Facebook pages, and now creating thousands of twitter accounts for instant propaganda.

Gordon:  The Islamic State or ISIS has run a number of graphic social media campaigns that have branded it. How successful has that been in viral messaging and recruitment?

Shahda:  I believe it has been very successful in achieving its desire goal.

Gordon:  Can you provide us with some specific examples of ISIS’s social media successes?

Shahda:  Take for example any propaganda or act of terrorism video created by ISIS terrorists. Their followers can spread such a video within minutes and like a wildfire on Facebook and more so on.

Even their non followers and enemies help them indirectly by retweeting their terrorist propaganda.

Gordon:  Has Facebook, Twitter and Instagram been able to knock off ISIS and other terrorist group accounts? If not, what are hurdles these social media face?

Shahda:  They have done so but they keep creating more and more accounts. Some compare it to whack a mole.

Gordon:  Given your experience in monitoring websites, chat rooms and now social media, how difficult is it to monitor and prevent abuses by terrorist groups?

Shahda:  It is difficult because it requires considerable dedicated resources. Monitoring chat rooms is easier because there are probably dozens of them fully dedicated for terrorist activities. However it gets much more difficult with Facebook and even more so with Twitter where thousands of accounts can be created in very short period of time and quickly spread propaganda and other terrorist activities.

Gordon:  The recent attacks by isolated Islamic extremists in Canada and the US are evidence of the extensive use by the perpetrators of social media resonating Islamic doctrinal hatred and calls to jihad. Is there any way that counterterrorism and homeland security echelons can identify and effectively monitor such potential cases?

Gordon:  How do the US First Amendment guarantees of free and protected speech impede surveillance and takedown of terrorists’ social media platforms?

Gordon:  Do you believe that US counterterrorism and intelligence echelons have the requisite linguistic resources to monitor terrorist social media, and, if not, what should they be doing to obtain them?

Shahda:  I cannot answer this question as I do not know what resources that our government has in this field.  However, I hope that we do have enough because as I said before this is very long and hard war against Islamic terrorism and requires a lot of resources, patience, fortitude, and strong will to defeat this enemy.

Gordon:  How could the US government make more effective use of private individuals like you and others in this important effort to keep tabs on emerging jihad threats on social media?

Shahda:  I am ready to help anytime if and when they ask me to do so. Our bravest troops are fighting and dying in foreign lands to protect our freedom and our way of life. The least that I can do is to help in monitoring terrorist activities on the internet from the comfort of my living room.

Gordon:  Joseph Shahda, thank you for this thought provoking and timely interview.

Shahda:  You’re welcome.




Also see Jerry Gordon’s collection of interviews, The West Speaks.


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