BYU student studying ISIS recruiting efforts on social media says group’s reach is growing

Posted at 9:43 PM, Dec 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-04 23:43:43-05

PROVO, Utah -- The aftermath of the San Bernardino attack gives new significance for one Utah student's research as he dissects how ISIS recruits Americans.

Most students in college use social media to connect with friends and keep up with the trends, but one student at BYU is using Twitter for his research.

“This year I've been focusing on the development of ISIS' rhetoric and their appeal, specifically in their recruiting,” said Alex Miller, who is a senior studying International Relations at BYU.

Miller has been exploring the Twittersphere for more than two years, searching for ISIS recruitment profiles and studying how they work.

“The reach and the amount of people they can contact by one post has dramatically increased over the years,” Miller said.

Miller says social media serves as the starting point for recruits into ISIS.

“The more accounts they have online, the more people will see that and a wider swath of people,” Miller said.

But one of the biggest hurdles in his studies is, “these accounts kept getting deleted as I was trying to follow them,” Miller said.

Twitter suspends those accounts where recruiters call for people to travel to Iraq or commit acts of violence.

“These ISIS supporters are, as these accounts are deleted by Twitter, they're just making more,” Miller said.

Throughout the years, Miller says the number of accounts has grown by the thousands.

“You can see they posted videos, that certain people will almost be proud of the fact they've been suspended from Twitter,” Miller said.

Miller says his research is not easy to do, but it is important.

“It is difficult to go through all of this information, because sometimes they post images that are very graphic and it weighs on you after a while,” Miller said.

Miller says while these groups can be dangerous, he is safe. He does all his research on BYU computers and is not signed in as a user.