Islamic State’s web success has come through preying on young followers’ frustrations via Tweets from the preachers such as Mohamad al-Arefe
If the west (or rather western-backed militias) has won the ground war against Islamic State, then we are still losing the digital war. Accounts such as Mohamad al-Arefe’s prove it: he has 20 million followers on Twitter – more than anyone else in the Middle East. He only follows five accounts – all versions of himself in Indonesian, Farsi, Urdu, Turkish and (perhaps most worryingly) English. He also produces popular “Snap Fatwas” on Snapchat. He is a one-man, multilingual, global extremist-leaning media network.
I’ve interviewed many Isis defectors in my work over the years, and Arefe’s name kept coming up. One in three Saudi youths follow him online, and the other two know who he is. His popularity makes him untouchable to the Saudi authorities – his arrest would likely trigger social upheaval. For years I have seen him retweet Isis fanboys gushing about the virtues of their caliphate, and encouraging Muslim youth around the world to join them.