When Anonymous declared total war on ISIS after the Paris attacks last November, it was a sign that the nature of warfare and its actors are changing, especially when it comes to methods of recruitment. Just as WWI was the first “total” war event that introduced significant changes due to industrialization, internet usage in war efforts is changing the nature of warfare in modern times. Governments, vigilante groups, and terrorist organizations have expanded the fronts of war from the battle field to the internet. Although Anonymous and ISIS have dichotomous end-goals, they are operating and benefiting from the same type of network and set of tools to further their objectives.
The people involved in both ISIS and Anonymous are “everyday” citizens that are extremely passionate about their respective issues. Although ISIS and Anonymous both operate heavily via the Internet, ISIS executes most of its “operations” through physical, or face-to-face contact. Anonymous is strictly a web-based organization and since the Paris attacks, aims to derail the antics that ISIS seeks to produce. The Internet community that Anonymous has created is a new phenomenon and modern approach to fighting terrorism. In their campaign against ISIS, much of what Anonymous has accomplished has been solely online, excluding their claim last December have foiled an ISIS terror attack in Italy. A tweet posted by Anonymous on Christmas day read, “We have already foiled one attack, Isis against Italy, we hope to block others.” Most results have come in the form of removing over 2,000 pro-ISIS accounts from Twitter, and shutting down other ISIS-linked websites. Twitter has reported that some of these numbers may be inflated with accounts that are not actually ISIS members, however.
This hacking ability is matched by Anonymous which, according to the Huffington Post, is essentially a loose collective of hackers that come together for activism via the Internet when they feel strongly enough about a certain issue. This modern way of convening rivals ISIS’s informal strategy for recruiting members. Anonymous’s declaration of total war on ISIS was conducted in the usual fashion for its campaigns – a masked individual appeared in a video (this time speaking French) to tell ISIS and its supporters to expect massive cyber attacks. The group went on to upload more videos in multiple languages, including English and Italian stating their objectives for the #OpISIS effort. The internet’s global audience lends itself to multi-lingual tactics – ironically, ISIS media campaigns are similarly multi-lingual. ISIS responded to these allegations by calling the group “idiots” via Twitter and educating its supporters on how to avoid cyber attacks.
The fact that ISIS and Anonymous are pushing the fronts of cyber war tactics only emphasizes the ways that the Internet has lent them both global reach. Inevitably, this reach makes it much tougher for countries and other international actors to maintain control of the situation. In order to put an end to the endeavors of ISIS, the world cannot rely on Anonymous’s Internet campaign alone – countries must learn to cooperate and utilize the Internet in a positive way if they hope to restore a sense of international safety in the near future.