Known for its social media savvy, the Islamic State has made use of a number of platforms in proliferating its message and its attacks. But now, experts say they may have found a way to turn the terrorists’ hubris against them. According to a new report from Defense One, traffic spikes on YouTube videos may be able to help predict the extremist group’s next attacks.
Traffic spikes on YouTube videos can provide useful information, Defense One says, because “a YouTube video’s best day, traffic-wise, is usually the day it gets posted. Clicks generally decline quickly and post-launch spikes are rare.” This means that an unusual onslaught of traffic could portend calamity. As Defense One notes, “On Dec. 18, a year-old jihadist video called ‘Black Flags of Islam and Imam Mahdi’ saw just such a spike, receiving enough views to reach about 70 percent of its best day’s traffic. Eight days later, an ISIS-affiliated suicide bomber detonated an explosive belt at an Ahmadi mosque in the Bangladeshi town of Bagmara, an unexpected uptick in Islamic State tactics in the country.”
The video in question, known as the “Black Flags of Khorasan,” has since been removed from YouTube, with the site noting that its content violated terms of service. The 26 minutes of footage calls “soldiers of Allah” to action and encourages “killing upon killing upon killing” and, as Scott Crino, managing director at predictive analytics company Predata says, it’s ISIS’ “version of listening to AC/DC before weightlifting.”
“It gets them psyched up,” Crino explained, “So, often there’s a big spike in that particular video, prior to an event occurring.”
Of course, simply knowing that there may be a major event in the near future doesn’t provide all the necessary information to combat potential attacks. But there are other sources in addition to YouTube that Predata believes could prove helpful. Even comment sections could belie social unrest — “In 2014, heavy commenting on news articles about Russia and Ukraine preceded Moscow’s annexation of Crimea,” the company notes. Wikipedia can also be rather telling, Crino believes.
A few months before the deadly November attacks in Paris, Predata noted “particularly heavy changes” in the French-language ISIS page on Wikipedia. “That signal, plus others, led the Predata system to raise its prediction for a terror attack in France several times in the six weeks leading up to the November terror attacks,” said Joshua Haecker, Predata’s business development director.
Sadly, this sort of clairvoyance rarely yields happy results.