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Last week on Memeburn we reported to you that shadowy internet collective Anonymous had declared cyber-war on terrorist group ISIS following the horrific Paris attacks. Writing on its blog, Anonymous announced #OpParis, “an operation that’s focused in identifying the perpetrators of the Paris Terror Attacks, collecting intel from all who have involvement of the said tragedy, dig out the roots of the terrorist organization called ISIL, and finally getting our foothold in the battle against terrorism.”
A week later and it’s safe to say that the war is now truly underway and like most wars, it’s already getting messy. The propaganda war is ramping up between the two sides who have both proven themselves to be masters of the internet, albeit in very different ways.
Anonymous claimed some early victories, immediately claiming that it had shut down over 8 000 Twitter accounts in the first phase of its operation and a further 20 000 accounts in the following days. The blog Hackread.com reports that “The online hacktivist Anonymous shut down 8824 Twitter accounts of ISIS members + followers in the first phase of OpParis — In the second phase the hacktivists claim to shut down more 20 000 twitter accounts — 20 000 + 8824 = 28 824.”
ISIS and its supporters have also become skilled internet players and they are by no means taking the acts lightly. Even Anonymous grudgingly acknowledge that “Al Qaeda was stupid enough to lead themselves to their own demise, same goes for the Taliban, but ISIS seems to have a small amount of knowledge about security and privacy online.”
Technology blog ArsTechnica reports that “ISIS supporters aren’t sitting by idly. A new Telegram group is being used to spread information on how to secure accounts and devices against the usual brands of Anonymous attacks.”
Furthermore it’s been reported that Isis and its affiliates have moved their operations onto the “Dark Web” in the last few days, but this only prompted Anonymous to claim scornfully:
— Anonymous (@AnonyOpNews) November 20, 2015
Not content to simply take down the Isis-affiliated accounts, Anonymous released a “Noob Guide” for anyone looking to get involved, taking advantage of the revulsion and hatred that the Paris attacks brought up in many people as a recruitment tool for online vigilantism.
They hacker collective has also promised to make public all the accounts that they claim to have taken down which are linked to the Islamist group.
— Anonymous (@LatestAnonNews) November 20, 2015
But that’s not all – the group decided to come out and use one of the most tried-and-tested weapons in the online arsenal – the Rickroll. Dazed magazine reports that “According to a recent tweet from the #OpParis account, Anonymous are now flooding all pro-Isis hashtags with “Rick Roll” videos. That means; whenever any Isis account tries to spread a message, or get something trending, the topic will instead be flooded with countless videos of Rick Astley circa 1987.”
The group has also been very clear that it, in no way, associated the current refugee crisis with the terrorist group and has been very vocal in coming out against the French escalation of the bombing campaign in Syria
— Anonymous (@GroupAnon) November 22, 2015
But there are those who are skeptical of how effective Anonymous can be. They claim that Anonymous have grossly inflated claims about the numbers of accounts they have shut down. ArsTechnica, in particular, spent some time investigating the accounts that #OpParis is claiming to have shut down and found that “Another list of about 4 000 accounts posted by Anonymous members and reviewed by Ars includes Twitter accounts that have posted messages sympathetic to ISIS, but in the majority they are not specifically ISIS. Some are actually those of Palestinians, and others appear to be accounts “trolling” ISIS. Others appear to be merely accounts in Arabic.”
They say that in war, the first casualty is the truth. But when it comes to a conflict between two extremely powerful online shapeshifters like Isis and Anonymous, it’s almost impossible to verify what’s really happening. How will victory be measured for Anonymous? Is it a purging of Isis from the web or in a cessation of all terrorist attacks? And if Isis survive online, can they claim that as a victory? Only time will tell.