Could Anonymous Take Down ISIS?

In one of the more unconventional reactions to the terrorist attacks that rocked Paris last week, Internet hacktivist group Anonymous has declared war on ISIS, vowing to launch a massive cyber attack on the extremist organization that took responsibility for the Paris attacks. The organization was one of many who expressed retribution for the attack that left 130 dead and hundreds more injured. Over the weekend, France bombed an ISIS stronghold in Syria, while allies vouched support. But Anonymous provides a very different form of warfare — one that no nation in the world could compete with.

Anonymous has long been "at war" with the extremist terror group, but released a new video after the attacks promising to increase their efforts as part of #OpParis. The video in question, which featured a man in Anonymous' signature Guy Fawkes mask, was released in several languages, including French and Italian. "We will not give up, we do not forgive," said a spokesman in French. "Expect us." A similar video was released after the Charlie Hebdo attack in January, in which Anonymous started #OpCharlieHebdo.

Although Anonymous is prone to the dramatic and has taken missteps in the past — like misidentifying the police officer who shot Michael Brown last summer — Anonymous brings an intriguing skill to the war on terror: the ability to hit ISIS on Twitter.

Since launching #OpParis, Anonymous claims to have identified and taken down over 3,800 ISIS-related Twitter accounts. In the past year, hackers and organizations associated with Anonymous have claimed responsibility for finding and flagging thousands of ISIS accounts, as well as taking down affiliated websites and donation pages.

While tarnishing the group's social media presence isn't the key to defeating ISIS, it does make an impact — at worst, it's an annoyance, at best it's a hindrance. But when talking about a terrorist organization with the reach and scope of ISIS, any little effort is helpful. Especially when taking into consideration ISIS's extensive presence on Twitter.

Many militant members maintain extremely active and popular accounts on the platform, which are used as tools for recruiting supporters and spreading information. According to The Atlantic, in 2014 there were over 46,000 ISIS-related accounts identified, often with an average of 1,000 followers each. In June, The New York Times published an extensive feature detailing the various methods used by ISIS supporters and members to target and recruit individuals from across the globe who have no ties to the Islamic State or Islam in general. The common denominator in almost all of these cases was Twitter or other online platforms.

Thus far, many of Anonymous' campaigns and tactics have been geared toward publicly shaming, annoying, or protesting individuals or organizations that offend them. For the first time, Anonymous' efforts may result in a substantive, helpful result. However, given the nebulous structure and secretive nature of the organization, it's difficult to verify their results or effectiveness. But even if Anonymous only succeeds in taking down a handful of accounts, they will have been helpful in stymieing ISIS's reach. ISIS is not a traditional state actor. So why not try a non-traditional approach against them?

Image: YouTube/Sky News