Original Osama bin Laden photo via
Last week, it was brought to a lot of people's attention that al Qaeda were active on Twitter. This was slightly less surprising than it sounds. At a grassroots level, these early masters of the viral beheading video know social media's black magic well enough, which is probably why they decided to crowdsource ideas of how they could improve their online image.
They organized a hashtag session, encouraging supporters to shout out their own suggestions for this PR revamp. Unfortunately for the jihadists, a US terrorism expert called JM Berger noticed that this was happening, and invited his followers to start using the hashtag in their own tweets and thus barge their way into the conversation. Cue loads of unfunny people lining up to take potshots at the bewildered terrorists.
These "ideas" for improving al Qaeda's online image ranged from the simply crude:
BONERS WITH PANTS HOLES CUT OUT #اقتراحك_لتطوير_اﻹعلام_الجهادي
— Dan Whitcomb (@_dwhitcomb) August 15, 2013
To the cuttingly political:
OBAMA THIRD TERM #اقتراحك_لتطوير_اﻹعلام_الجهادي
— Dan Whitcomb (@_dwhitcomb) August 15, 2013
To the merely terrible:
— Roady (@Roady1212) August 15, 2013
To the apparently drunk:
try oral its said to be a very fun pass time #اقتراحك_لتطوير_اﻹعلام_الجهادي
— pepper monstercock (@snarewarrior) August 15, 2013
To the people who are themselves the greatest recruiting poster al Qaeda could ever hope for:
"Does this suicide belt make me look fat?" #اقتراحك_لتطوير_اﻹعلام_الجهادي
— Rob Hintz (@Rob_Hintz) August 13, 2013
All of which resulted in the original al Qaeda poster tweeting:
#اقتراحك_لتطوير_الإعلام_الجهادي العلوج الامريكية تشارك في الهاشتاق :(
— اااه يا قلبي (@gdslooptadhi) August 14, 2013
Which roughly translates from the Arabic as: "The American Infidels take part in the hashtag :("
Yep, that's the most feared terrorist group in modern history using a sad face.
But far from this dull giggle party, there was another, rather more dignified community of Twitter users who were playing the whole thing with a straight bat. These were the sincere al Qaeda sympathizers, who, away from the white noise of white Americans, were actually trying to have a serious, grown-up conversation about radical Islam's social media needs.
It'd be nice to say that many valid points were raised here. But this is the internet. And besides, most al Qaeda supporters make your average Redditor seem like a fully paid up member of the human race by comparison.
And so, we witnessed one of those great moments of empathy across the divide, where we were cheek by jowl with our enemies and suddenly aware of how like us they can be. In fact, you probably recognize these types of people and their techniques from dull brainstorming sessions you've been forced to endure.
The Bro Who Is Worried About Apathy
When I was a journalism student working on the university paper, the most regular pitch was always some starry-eyed freshman who wanted to pen 1,500 words on "student apathy." The core idea of this article is that everyone except them was apathetic to "student issues" and that only they, bold warriors, were fighting against the tide of people they saw hanging out on steps smoking cigarettes and drunkenly trying to get into one another's pants every night of the week.
— ايمن (@VoVayman) August 13, 2013
Translated suggestion on how to improve al Qaeda's social media presence: Important article about apathy in jihadist forums: http://t.co/RK3jhvAy1o
If you follow the link included in VoVayman's tweet, it leads to an article bemoaning the laziness of the users and moderators on jihadi forums. Alas, it seems that although they probably drink less than the average Western student, there are still jihadis out there who are prone to bone idle inertia.
The Artful Restatement of the Sublimely Obvious
Experience teaches us that in any meeting there will be a good 30 percent of folk who want to say something, anything, just to prove to everyone else in the room that they exist. Not actually having anything to say should never be an impediment to this. After all, if it's stunningly obvious, then it's probably true, isn't it?
المقاطع القصيرة على اليوتيوب التي لاتتجاوز مدتها دقيقتين إلى ثلاث دقائق تجد مشاهدة وقبول أكثر #اقتراحك_لتطوير_الإعلام_الجهادي
— مُسَعِّرْ (@m5seer) August 13, 2013
Translated suggestion on how to improve al Qaeda's social media presence: Short clips on YouTube with a duration not to exceed two to three minutes for people to find and watch
Throw away your copy of Virality For Dummies and make way for Arabian Seth Godin, a.k.a. m5seer, who has absorbed the social media formula that in order to make clips shareable, they need to be the sort of thing you can punch through quickly before your boss notices (though I wouldn't advise watching too much al Qaeda content at work).
There were even those who ventured beyond this realm of pointless banality. They had heard about social media. They knew it involved at least two things, YouTube and Twitter:
#اقتراحك_لتطوير_الإعلام_الجهادي انشاء حساب رسمي في اليوتيوب وتويتر واي واحد عنده خبر يسلمه للحساب مع التوثيق ثم ينشر
— المعتصم (@Al_Mutassim) August 13, 2013
Translated suggestion on how to improve al Qaeda's social media presence: Formally set up an account on YouTube and Twitter to deliver news.
And there were also those who knew that the use of hashtags is commonplace on Twitter:
#اقتراحك_لتطوير_الإعلام_الجهادي أقترح على تفعيل هاشتاقات جهاديه بشكل يومي في تويتر
— جهْبِذٌ (@an2007a) August 14, 2013
Translated suggestion on how to improve al Qaeda's social media presence: I suggest to activate the hashtag #jihad on a daily basis on Twitter
Meanwhile, roorooroo30 felt it was worth getting even more basic with the back to basics:
تذكير الناس دائما بان الجهاد ذروة سنام الاسلام .تلقائيا سيتاتي الاعلام #اقتراحك_لتطوير_الإعلام_الجهادي
— makah (@roorooroo30) August 13, 2013
Translated suggestion on how to improve al Qaeda's social media presence: Always remind people that jihad is the pinnacle of Islam.
Look, roorooroo30: it really is no understatement to say that jihad is and always has been front and center of the al Qaeda brand space. Suggesting it might be a good idea for them to reinforce this is a bit like bemoaning the lack of balls out anti-Semitism in Nazi-propaganda literature.
No matter whether you're loading old Soviet-made rocket launchers into the back of a truck for delivery to Kandahar or simply brainstorming fresh social media ideas inside a disused aspirin factory in Yemen, there's always someone in any organization who won't let their dreams be muddied by the cold realities of business. Who seems to feel that rather than the product being wrong, it's just the customer's own damned fault for not understanding that the product is right for them.
“The most challenging element of working with resistors is that they can sap the energy out of the room,” says management guru Richard Batchelor. And brother, you could feel the jihadi lightbulbs dimming as some supporters insisted that what was wrong with Global Jihad wasn't Global Jihad at all, it was simply that the public hadn't developed the right opinions about Global Jihad yet.
@A_16008 (tweet since deleted)
Translated suggestion on how to improve al Qaeda's social media presence: Demonstrate the real jihad picture of mujahideen life because it has been tarnished by the west.
@pooroo31 (tweet since deleted)
Translated suggestion on how to improve al Qaeda's social media presence: There should be a strong voice of right to counter the voice of falsehood and we must respond to fabrications that deceive the people who are prone to hypocrisy, immorality and infidelity.
So basically, rather than making propaganda, al Qaeda should... make propaganda? Not entirely sure I follow that, to be honest, but then I guess I'm not the kind of guy who wants to blow up the West.
Let's Make a Pretty Picture
If you can't actually improve your product, a good way to dominate a meeting is simply to suggest that it isn't good-looking enough. When you think about it, everything could be prettier. There are even parts of the Northern Lights that no right-minded person would spend more than a couple of seconds looking at. Like all those manufactured tabloid outrages about the London 2012 Olympics logo or the renaming of the post office, the first refuge of any clueless management team is to spend a fortune redesigning the letterhead:
#اقتراحك_لتطوير_الإعلام_الجهادي الإهتمام بالتصميم والمونتاج بأشكاله المتنوعه لتقريب فكره الاصدار للعوام
— الخنساء الموحدة (@al_khansaa2) August 13, 2013
Translated suggestion on how to improve al Qaeda's social media presence: More interesting design and diverse forms of montage to get the idea of jihad across.
Someone at al Qaeda HQ better be honing their Photoshop skills.
The Assholes with Really Good Ideas
Then there are the worst kind of people. The ones who unite everyone else in revulsion for their sensible, well-plotted, creative proposals. It is always a shock, once you leave school, to suddenly be told by society that you can no longer bogwash these people. In fact, you are probably going to have to take your orders from them.
Case in point, HodhodSo2, who has turned up with a neatly Velo-bound folder containing a long list of actionable media-terror-image-improvement points:
HodhodSo2's translated suggestions on how to improve al Qaeda's social media presence:
1. Create mailing groups so that the brothers who register can pursue their jihad versions.
2. Issue a weekly magazine published every Friday.
3. Update the links on the internet and on YouTube for the unemployed to see.
4. Diversify the media material we're producing so it can exist on a variety of formats:
- Video (to watch)
- Speech/Sounds (to listen)
- Writing (to read)
And on, through to point 15: “When producing jihadist media, sincerity has a great role to play, and can have amazing effects.” Signing off with a wink and a piece of punchable homespun folksy philosophy: this cretin has thought of everything.
So, all you jihadist Twitter addicts out there, don't fear, for as Egypt spins faster and faster down the plughole, you can rely on the al Qaeda street teams to be there in ever-greater numbers, sewing their authentic buzz hype, bombarding the networks with their #fanspeak, blazing a social media trail toward a better jihad.
Follow Gavin on Twitter: @hurtgavinhaynes
More on al Qaeda:
WATCH – Waiting for al-Qaeda