THE LEVANT – The “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL) has been attempting to burnish its image on social networking sites by spreading false news of its victories and issuing threats to journalists who report the truth, security officials and experts told Mawtani.
Iraqi forces recently arrested a seven-member ISIL cell that had been operating in different parts of the country, said Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Saad Maan.
The detainees confessed that their role had been to sit at a computer for several hours a day and “fabricate false news about ISIL’s victories or its control of certain Iraqi cities and towns”, he said.
They also confessed to broadcasting false allegations about the army’s withdrawal [from certain areas] and [ISIL’s] capture of Iraqi soldiers, as well as to using photo editing software to falsify old photographs and others taken outside the country to use in the group’s broadcasts, he said.
The detainees also revealed they had been working with operatives in Syria who were performing the same task, the spokesman said.
Each of these operatives manages five or six social media accounts set up under various names which propagate the same disinformation in order to have a larger impact and reach, he said.
DEATH THREATS AND DISINFORMATION
ISIL operatives “publish in one day at least 30 rumours and [pieces of] false information, all talking about the victories of ISIL and alleging losses in the ranks of the Iraqi forces”, Diyala police commander Maj. Gen. Jameel al-Shammary told Mawtani.
Some of these social media posts include sectarian death threats and others warn local journalists that if they do not comply with ISIL’s mandates “they will face death”, he said.
Some of the information these operatives publish is ridiculous, he said, as “they publish rumours about the fall of towns we are present in at the same time”.
Iraqi MP Mohammed al-Obaidi described the spread of ISIL social networking accounts as a “worrying phenomenon”.
Iraqis should be alerted to this practice and should be encouraged “to boycott and report them so they are permanently shut down”, he said.
ISIL relies on social media to undermine the nation’s morale, he said.
ISIL’s recruitment of people whose mission is to spread disinformation across social networking platforms is evidence that Iraqi forces have achieved great results on the ground, as ISIL no longer has real victories to broadcast, Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani told Mawtani.
IRAQIS MUST NOT BE DECEIVED
“The majority of these [social media] accounts use fake pictures and names or pseudonyms of their owners and it is difficult to track them except through the co-operation of citizens and routine inspection campaigns carried out by the security forces,” said University of Baghdad sociology professor Suhail Tomah.
He advised Iraqis to seek the news from known sources only and not to be deceived by ISIL’s attempts at disinformation.
“I followed a Twitter account called ‘The State of Islam Remains’ and it was publishing news with details that looked real, so I believed part of it,” Abu Ghraib resident Hassan Ahmed, 32, told Mawtani.
But on one occasion, he said, the account published a story saying ISIL had captured Abu Ghraib, which included details about the operation and a photo of a street near where he lives.
Ahmed ran out of the house to confirm the news, but said he only found “Hajj Taha in his shop and two policemen at the entrance of the street, and everything was quiet”.
“I wrote to [the Twitter user], ‘You are a liar, and I am in town now’, so he immediately deleted and blocked me so I did not confuse others,” he said.