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Social media pushes back at militant propaganda

The extremists of the Islamic State have turned their social media into a theater of horror, broadcasting a stomach-turning stream of battles, bombings and beheadings to a global audience.

The strategy is aimed at terrorizing opponents at home and winning recruits abroad. But there are increasing signs of pushback – both from companies swiftly censoring objectionable content and users determined not to let it go viral.

Public disgust with the group’s callous propaganda tactics was evident after the group’s posting of the beheading video of American journalist James Foley – chilling footage that spread rapidly when it appeared online late Tuesday.

By yesterday, many social media users were urging each other not to post the video as a form of protest.

Phillip Smyth, a University of Maryland researcher who tracks the social media activity of jihadists, has noted a modest but noteworthy rise in the speed with which rogue accounts are being removed from Twitter and terror-supporting pages are being pulled from Facebook.

Faysal Itani, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council, said the militants’ slick production techniques are partly due to the foreigners who have joined their cause.

“They’re the Twitter generation,” he said. “They’re good at it.”

The Islamic State’s adept use of the internet is in many ways an extension of al-Qaida’s technological evolution, illustrating how much the group has changed since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and why it has flourished despite America’s decadelong quest to crush it.

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