why the europol strategy of targeting isis web-accounts won’t work

due to a lack of other options for input, here is a message to europol:

according to the guardian, europol will started targeting isis web accounts in july. given an astonishing output of around 100.000 tweets a day from around 45.000 accounts and the constantly changing network of the internet, this endeavor seems to be the true equivalent of a hercules task. and despite me recognizing that there is probably more to the europol strategy than has been disclosed in the guardian, i would like to flag why the current strategy of europol is likely not work as well as it sounds at first.

for those not aware of the article, the strategy of europol is to work with social media companies to identify the most important accounts and monitor those who may be vulnerable and those who are ‘preying’ on them. with the help of network analytics the most active accounts would be identified and eventually shut down or hindered in their output.

now, the nature of network analytics is such that it identifies the nodes on the network that are most strongly interlinked, strongest in their output, or most dominant in any other characteristic that is searched for. like any money laundering operation expert will tell you, however, the truth is not always in the big numbers.

the problem of europol’s strategy is hidden in the proclaimed aim of the mission: “to hinder or stop further european recruitment”. as any halfway decent scientist knows, the best goal in mind is worth nothing without the correct method for execution. given the hypothesis of europol seems to be that it is “online ringleaders” that recruit people, taking them out would lessen recruitment according to this simple cause and effect analysis. and this is where talking to scientists would actually help…

according to prevalent research on isis and in reference to patterns of recruitment by other terrorist networks (please refer to hriar cabayan and sarah canna (eds.). a strategic multilayer assessment periodic publication 2014), numbers as high as 70-75% show up in the “recruited by friends” category.

if recruitment dominantly happens through personal friends however, and not, as targeted by europol’s strategy, through “online ringleaders” of social media output, it is once again, the “small numbers” that might actually lead to a more effective resolve to the identified problem. another, even more obvious, reason why the current strategy won’t work is that the idea of shutting down online ringleaders is likely to work as effectively as shutting down pirate bay or wikileaks – it does not; at all. and even if one were to identify and physically capture the person behind the propaganda messages and online recruitment strategy, the entire concept of isis and any other functioning terrorist network is based on a level of adaptability and agility that modern day states and organization can only dare to dream about.

in all of this, i would like to note that i am not discouraging europol’s activity or their potential ability to make a difference. on the contrary, i support the cross border network of counter-strategy and i believe that europol might have a better shot than any nation by itself. what i am trying to do is to point out weaknesses and faults in thought in order to give europol at least a fighting chance in keeping this continent safe. to echo alan turing’s thought that one needs a machine to fight a machine, i believe that it needs a network to beat a network. it is therefore that europol is technically fit to approach the issue – if only one could put national interests to the back seat to focus on the task at hand and if only one could listen to already existing knowledge to develop a solid strategy.

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