Art of Analytics: Extreme Networking

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About the Insights

If the Vietnam war was a 'Television War', the on-going conflict in Iraq and Syria involving the organisation commonly referred to as the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) is a 'Social Media War'. Members of ISIS have regularly exploited social media such as Twitter to recruit followers, spread propaganda, and as a weapon of terror. They have been able to exert enormous influence on how the world perceives them by posting images and videos of extreme violence.


Through their activities they have been highly successful in radicalising disenfranchised Muslim youths and inspiring numerous terrorist attacks around the world. The ISIS Twitter machine is highly organised and tech-savvy, making them difficult foe to combat. This problem is magnified by the dynamic nature of the ISIS social media network. Users are regularly suspended but continuously reconnect under new accounts, making them very difficult to track.


This visualisation shows a small part of the ISIS Twitter network, demonstrating the complexity of the social interactions and the difficulty faced in identifying and tracking individual people of interest. The problem is exacerbated by connections between ISIS members and news sources, political activists and academic researchers, all of which in turn have thousands of connections that are mostly benign.


The highlighted nodes in this visualisation represent a sample of users who all have a history of tweeting messages of hate and violence in support of the activities of ISIS. These users were identified using a sample of 33 supporters and members of ISIS, including known recruiters and propagandists. Graph analysis techniques were employed to analyse the connections between these radicals and their friends and followers, in order to identify the most influential users in the network. Advanced analytics can thus provide clarity where before there was only chaos and confusion. It allows us to study the social network connections of ISIS supporters and followers and ultimately identify the movers and shakers in their web.


About the Analytics

This Teradata Aster visualization shows a Gephi representation of an Aster AppCenter produced graph using the list of friends and followers of the 33 Twitter users who are members or supporters of ISIS and, in turn, their friends and followers. The total number of Twitter users analysed is 334,370, though only the top 10% of nodes are shown here. The plot uses eigenvector centrality to measure the influence of each user in the network, with the dots (nodes) representing the users and the lines (edges) indicating the other users each node is connected to. The highlighted nodes indicate the users that are known or suspected supporters/members of ISIS, while the highlighted edges trace the connections between these users and other users in the network.


About the Analyst

Unfortunately it is a sign of the times we live in that the analyst for this piece must remain anonymous. Analytics plays a vital role in society across a wide variety of sensitive topics such as helping maintain our peace, medical research, prevention of the spread of disease, border integrity and managing risk deep within our financial system. The analysts that support this work, by its nature, are often working in secrecy due to sensitivity or to the need to protect them from becoming targets. Although we are unable to credit the analyst in this case, we do appreciate their daily work and the role all such analysts provide behind the scenes on behalf of our global society.