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How ISIS uses Network Effects

ISIS, a jihadist group based in the Middle East has become infamous for attracting foreigners to its ranks. There have been plenty of stories in the news on people who have left their homes in the US, Canada, and Europe to fight in Syria or Iraq on ISIS’s behalf. Much of their recruiting is reportedly done through social media, convincing naive young adults to join them in their ‘Islamic Utopia.’ Stopping people from joining these groups has been a major goal of anti-terrorism groups around the world, but the amount of people travelling to fight with ISIS has “has doubled in the past year, according to The Times” (Engel). As it turns out, network effects have played a large role in keeping the ISIS recruitment figures up despite the best efforts of Western anti-terrorism groups.

In addition to propaganda, ISIS encourages prospective fighters to bring their entire families with them, as well as recruiting women who will not participate in combat. The idea behind this is that the families will bring in friends of families, and the people that join will bring in even more friends and family, making joining ISIS seem more attractive as more people join it. This has served ISIS well in the past, and is still one of the main drivers of their recruitment of foreigners. These network effects are very hard to dismantle by anti-terrorism organizations since the recruitment relies on people with relatively strong bonds with each other. As news about the atrocities committed within and by ISIS has grown, the effectiveness of their propaganda has diminished, but recruitment due to network effects has remained largely undisturbed.  Any solution to this problem will likely involve identifying those most at risk of joining ISIS due to its network effects and convincing them that the price of joining ISIS is not worth the value they see in it from the amount of people that have already joined.

Hopefully counter-terrorism organizations find an effective way of combating these network effects  in order to weaken ISIS’s power to recruit foreigners.


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