Hashtags Wars: ISIS Propagandists vs. U.S. State Department

photo by Théo via Flickr 

The use of social media–namely Twitter–as a platform for disseminating extremist propaganda has launched the U.S. and ISIS into a battle of hashtags. Here’s what you should know.

Twitter and other forms of social media offer connection to the masses, whether you’re a business trying to broaden your consumer base, a band trying to get the word out, or a terrorist organization looking to spread your propaganda.

This last scenario as of late has been of particular concern for both the U.S. and foreign state departments. As a response to ISIS’ growing social media and multimedia (i.e. videos of beheadings) presence, the U.S. State Department has launched their own counter-hashtags in hopes of quelling the effect of ISIS’ social media campaigns. The hashtag wars have even prompted some anti-ISIS muslims to create their own campaigns to disassociate themselves from the violent extremists.

Below are some U.S., ISIS, and anti-ISIS muslim, hashtags of note:


This hashtag was created by the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) as a way to to combat ISIS’ relentless hashtag campaigns. The twitter account and campaign is attempting to expose ISIS’ propaganda through linking to articles that recount violent acts and by posting (sometimes graphic) images that show the effects of ISIS attacks and techniques.

hashtag wars



In July 2014 this hashtag was used by ISIS militants to taghashtag wars orchestrated threats against the U.S. According to the BBC, the hashtag originated from the ISIS affiliated account @ansaar999 where the tweeter urged its 23,000 followers to use graphic images and pre-written threats to establish its anti U.S. social media presence.

What proceeded was a barrage of images that depicted, the 9/11 attack, dead American soldiers, and ISIS militants.


Spawned by non-extremist Muslim frustration, this hashtag has been implemented as a way to help counter a growing misconception that Islam and extremism are synonymous.  The group Active Change Foundation launched the campaign, and has since accrued a fairly large following–thanks in part to a YouTube video that has now been watched almost 300,000 times.

Following the success of #NotInMyName, another more satirical campaign called #MuslimApologies was created. This hashtag was created in response to the sentiment that Muslims are somehow responsible for the extremism of groups like ISIS–a sentiment which naysayers of #NotInMyName claim is promoting.

hashtag wars

According to the New York Times, the muslim apologies hashtag recently topped the U.K. list of most popular hashtags.

So, what’s next?

So far it has been quite difficult for the U.S. and other foreign State Departments to combat ISIS’ social media presence, even with the cooperation of Twitter and YouTube, the latter of which has authorized government agencies to deactivate accounts.

Part of the trouble has been the sheer volume of accounts as well as the ingenuity of ISIS’ campaigns, some of which latch onto trending hashtags to increase the probability that they’re seen. This particular technique has been used with Scotland’s #VoteNo campaign, for example, which began trending in regard to the Scottish independence vote.

Despite the monumental task diligence in regard to ISIS propaganda, it appears that government and private efforts have been working to some relative success. According to The Guardian, following a mass deletion of ISIS related accounts, ISIS propaganda operative Abdulrahman al-Hamid has tweeted, “We talked a lot about the deletion of accounts and the means of staying steadfast and to push people to continue if their accounts were deleted or suspended … We have to admit that this is a disaster and we have to be patient.”

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?


James Pero