As the Pentagon and President Obama prep for airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, ISIS continues to use Twitter and Facebook as a propaganda tool. After Northern California was hit with its worst earthquake in 25 years, the hashtag #napaquake and #napaearthquake were used to share the aftermath in Napa. What's that got to do with ISIS, you ask? Well, soon after the hashtag was created, ISIS operatives and supporters began using the hashtag for their own purposes — creating a hashtag "story" that includes a collection of images and experiences in Napa, combined with threats and calls for support from the militant group.
As if this weren't enough, ISIS has created its own threatening hashtag to accompany the co-opted hashtag: the completely horrific #StevensHeadInObamasHands. The hashtag is a clear reference to the threat that an ISIS operative made on the life of Steven Sotloff in the same video that showed American journalist James Foley being executed. ISIS has threatened to do the same to Sotloff if President Obama doesn't end the airstrikes against ISIS.
This isn't an isolated example. ISIS co-opts many popular hashtags, including #michaelsam, #ASKRicky, which connects to a prominent youtube star Ricky Dillon, and #COYS, which stands for Come On You Spurs and is a reference to an English football club.
The co-opting of popular hashtags has been a consistent tactic in ISIS's propaganda strategy. Hashtags relating to the 2014 World Cup were similarly co-opted a few months ago. And even hashtags relating to the recent events in Ferguson have been used in attempts to indoctrinate new members.
In response to these targeted Twitter campaigns, Twitter has been working to curb their reach, by deleting accounts that are particularly inflammatory, and focusing on reducing the amount of graphic photos or videos that are posted to the site.