Who Is Posting Islamic State (ISIS) Materials On The San Francisco-Based Internet Archive (Archive.org) – And What Can Be Done About It?

June 1, 2015

Introduction

In the past year, the Islamic State (ISIS) has put out an astonishing number of daily releases, ranging from written statements to very professionally produced videos, inter alia to promote itself and to advance its agenda, among other things. In order for many of these ISIS releases, primarily the video and audio productions, to be distributed, they must first be uploaded to certain websites; the links to them on these websites can then be shared on top-tier jihadi forums such as Shumoukh Al-Islam, and also on social media such as Twitter.

In recent months, ISIS has shown a clear preference for using the San Francisco-based Internet Archive (archive.org) to host its materials. Among the ISIS content posted there are video and audio productions, online magazines, and radio broadcasts by ISIS’s Al-Bayan radio. In order to manage its numerous daily releases, ISIS has created a number of accounts on Archive.org.


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Some of ISIS’s accounts on the Archive

The Internet Archive is free, easy to use, and versatile, and it is no surprise that ISIS has chosen to use it so extensively. It is also used frequently by other jihad groups, including Al-Qaeda. Its appeal to ISIS, however, can be partly attributed to the fact that the website offers visitors no way to instantly flag undesirable content on it – meaning that ISIS content can remain active on it for months. ISIS’s extensive use of Archive.org can also be seen against the backdrop of the flagging and reporting of ISIS content on other video-sharing websites such as YouTube, which has in the past year significantly increased its removal of ISIS videos. YouTube removes these videos with considerable input from YouTube users who flag and report them. While the strategy of online reporting of jihadi content to effect its removal will not in and of itself lead to the elimination of such content online, it makes it more difficult for jihadi supporters to disseminate their material, as they must constantly monitor content they have posted and find new platforms when this content is removed. The problem of Archive.org’s lack of any flagging mechanism is exacerbated by the lengthy and counterintuitive reporting mechanism that must be followed whenever a user wishes to report an item. Additionally, Archive.org’s own Terms of Use does not prohibit content frequently featured in ISIS releases, including graphic violence and hate speech.

ISIS Posts Links To Archive.org

ISIS disseminates its content via two main channels: the Shumoukh Al-Islam jihadi forum, where it posts daily in a subsection dedicated to it, and Twitter. Sometimes releases are posted first on Shumoukh Al-Islam and only afterwards on Twitter, and sometimes vice versa.

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