The Caucasus Emirate on Twitter — Part One

Posted: 09/06/2013 in Observations

For a recent university paper, I conducted an exploratory study into how the Caucasus Emirate uses the microblogging site Twitter. I’ve extracted some of the key points of the study for your reading pleasure — although it’s worth noting that the full paper contains more details and references the relevant literature.  This first post looks at the part I’ve tackled briefly in an earlier blog post:  Whom the Caucasus Emirate follows on Twitter.

Choice of Subjects

I looked at five Caucasus Emirate-associated Twitter accounts: Kavkavcenter (KC), UmmaNews_com (UN), IslamDin_TV (ID), VDagestan_Ru (VD), and Kavkazchat (KT).  Each either uses the logo of a website closely associated with the Caucasus Emirate, links to the website from its profile descriptor, or is linked to by the website itself.  KT was not active at the time of collection, but I decided to retain it in the study.  As with all online accounts, it should be noted that it is impossible to determine who is behind the accounts and what their relationship is to those who actually perpetrate Caucasus Emirate-attributed violence.

Accounts Followed

I collected the username, profile name and bio of all accounts followed by the five study subjects on 4 April. I assigned these accounts to one of eight categories:

  1. Extremist (in study);
  2. Extremist (other; see end note for definition);
  3. Religion (accounts promoting religious material or whose bio is explicitly religious that do not qualify as extremist);
  4. Russian media;
  5. Foreign media;
  6. Official (state structures or people employed by them);
  7. Terrorism analysis;
  8. Unknown/Other.

As I don’t speak Arabic, I had to use Google Translate for the very small number of Arabic-language profiles and websites — not ideal, but the number was small enough to not significantly impact the results.

KC

UN

ID

VD

KT

All

Number of accounts following

30

37

12

32

4

115

Number of accounts followed by

6,354

1,377

986

249

216

9,182

 
Extremist (other)

3

20

6

18

1

48

Extremist (in study)

3

3

3

3

3

15

Religion

2

6

2

4

0

14

Unknown/Other

4

2

1

3

0

10

Foreign media

5

3

0

0

0

9

Terrorism analysis

5

3

0

2

0

9

Russian media

5

0

0

1

0

6

Official

3

0

0

1

0

4

The accounts that users follow can be understood as the people or organisations that they are listening to, whereas followers are those listening to them, i.e. their audience.  All five accounts follow and therefore listen to a low number of users.

The overwhelming majority of users followed by Caucasus Emirate accounts represent or claim to represent groups and organisations rather than individuals. Across all five accounts, only 10 unique accounts followed did not claim to be organisations/movements or their spokespeople, and six of these were clearly based outside Russia.

Unsurprisingly, there is a strong extremist component to accounts followed, with extremists accounting for two-thirds or more of users for four Caucasus Emirate accounts.  KC represented the exception, with fellow extremists accounting for only 20%; instead, media organisations and terrorism analysts combined comprised half the total.

Overall, the five accounts have few permanent outward links, and the overwhelming majority are to organisations and groups rather than individuals.  The accounts that they follow are predominantly those — fellow extremists, media organisations and terrorism analysts — that are likely to generate information corresponding to the group’s ideology, which can then be broadcast via Twitter and the group’s websites.  This suggests Twitter is primarily being used for information gathering and provision purposes; the accounts followed do not point towards any kind of networking function.

End Note: Definitions

For the paper, I utilised my own definition of terrorism (see this blog’s About section). I defined websites as extremists if they (a) praise or claim association with groups that are designated as terrorist by the US or UK government or that have claimed responsibility for acts matching this paper’s definition of terrorism; (b) advocate separatism or the overthrow of an existing constitutional system; or (c) use vocabulary common to Islamist groups advocating illegal or violent acts, such as mujahideen, jihad, Islamic Emirate and caliphate.  It should be noted that such an approach is not without problems, but within the context of the study these shortcomings were acceptable.

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