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Wilayat Facebook and Instagram: An Exploration of Pro-IS Activities on Mainstream Platforms 

Wilayat Facebook and Instagram: An Exploration of Pro-IS Activities on Mainstream Platforms 
21st April 2023 Meili Criezis
In Insights


Previous research has greatly contributed to establishing and building our understanding of IS spaces on Telegram, Twitter, Facebook, and other online environments . However, online environments can be fast-paced; with dynamics constantly shifting and evolving, researchers are required to frequently revisit and reassess these spaces. This Insight seeks to provide some updated initial observations on pro-IS activities on mainstream platforms with a focus on Facebook and Instagram. 

Despite these platforms’ ongoing efforts to limit pro-IS activities, their extremist milieus remain widely networked and active. This is not a novel or surprising observation, but a more in-depth examination of how pro-IS supporters are able to ensure their continuing survival offers the following opportunities: 

  1. Identify account behavioural patterns and strategies that appear to be widely implemented across all platforms versus those that tend to be more major-platform specific (i.e. how might pro-IS strategies shift from platform to platform?).
  2. Categorise types of accounts which may carry out specific functions within the pro-IS mainstream platform ecosystems.
  3. Locate points of weakness where content moderation fails to detect pro-IS activities and understand how and why this is happening.
  4. Gain further insights into the specific type of content pro-IS accounts share on mainstream platforms (which often differ from content shared on Telegram for example). 

To address these topics, this Insight is organised into two overarching sections: ‘Account Behaviours: Types of Accounts and Their Functions’ and ‘Flying Under the Radar of Content Moderation vs Overtly Pro-IS Activities.’ The following section summarises key takeaways and suggests potential avenues for continuing research. 

Account Behaviours: Types of Accounts and Their Functions

Previous studies of pro-IS online networks have observed the presence of accounts dedicated to serving specific functions within the wider pro-IS community on both mainstream and (what were at the time) fringe platforms. Examples include, but are not limited to, propagandising accounts, nodes, shout-out profiles, and amplifiers – with each type working toward a variety of separate tasks while also loosely coordinating with one another. Many of these categories continue to be replicated but there are also unexplored behavioural patterns that could expand our understanding. The following are some proposed categorical frameworks for conceptualising various types of pro-IS accounts and activities currently taking place on Facebook and Instagram: 


As previous research has found, these accounts’ primary purpose centres on disseminating official and unofficial propaganda. Some sub-categories may, for example, focus on posting propaganda in a particular language for a target audience while others solely post Amaq News updates. Propagandists are active on all mainstream and fringe platforms that I have been able to observe.


Similarly to the ‘nodes’ category, these Facebook accounts tend to be more prominent and are widely connected with other pro-IS profiles, allowing them to help fellow supporters build their own networks. They provide networking assistance by tagging a mix of already-established profiles together with newer accounts in various pro-IS posts and announcing the arrival of new or returning accounts to their social circles. 


The growing prominence of fundraising accounts on Facebook and Instagram is a newer phenomenon. Although pro-IS online fundraising initiatives are not a recent development, efforts to collect donations for individuals in the camps in Eastern Syria emerged following the 2019 fall of Baghouz – the last territorial pocket of the so-called Caliphate. Accounts in this category dedicate their posts to describing life in the camps for women and minors, recounting endured hardships at the hands of camp guard enemies, sharing photos of received donations (often placed next to children) as ‘proof’ of their campaigns’ legitimacy, and advertising points of contact via specific accounts or direct links for receiving donations through a variety of methods (cryptocurrencies, PayPal, GoFundMe, Western Union, etc.). Oftentimes, these initiatives maintain a comprehensive cross-platform presence by including links to their mirror accounts on other social media sites in their bio sections. 

Personal accounts

‘Personal accounts’ are more exclusive to Facebook and Instagram given that these platforms support the ability to build individual profiles, unlike Telegram, Element, or TechHaven for example. In contrast with the previously discussed categories, those who maintain personal accounts are using Facebook and Instagram for individual personal purposes in the same way that any other ‘typical’ user would. Although they may post pro-IS content, these accounts also provide windows into their personal lives by sharing daily life experiences and thoughts unrelated to IS – sometimes even posting photos of themselves, family and friends, and photos of sceneries in their general locations. 

The behavioural patterns demonstrating desires for socialising in a particularly personal manner constitute another defining characteristic of this category. ‘Personal accounts’ noticeably comment on others’ posts and socialise in a way that is typical of any ‘normal’ user seeking to build online friendships and connections. Some accounts in this category may choose not to post any pro-IS content themselves but instead, discreetly advertise their pro-IS stance by liking IS content or making pro-IS remarks under others’ statuses. Regardless of their specific approach on whether or not to overtly display their ideological affiliation, these profiles provide a more comprehensive and unique view into how online friendships and socialising take place within pro-IS online circles on major platforms. 

Lax Gendered Social Norms 

Unlike Telegram, gendered social norms on Facebook and Instagram appear to be laxer in that pro-IS communities do not tend to impose gender segregation. For example, men’s and women’s accounts often include a mixed-gender friends list and opposite genders directly comment on each other’s posts (which is observable by others). Although some people state in their bios that they will not accept messages from the other gender, interactions between men and women are not taboo. 

Flying Under the Radar of Content Moderation vs Overtly Pro-IS Activities 

Efforts to evade content moderation have not seemed to change much, but it is worth mentioning some common strategies that pro-IS supporters continue to employ on mainstream platforms:

  • Changing account settings to implement varying levels of privacy such as obscuring the ability for others (including ‘friends’) to see their friends’ lists or locking their profiles completely
  • Selecting specific names implying a pro-IS ideological affiliation without being too direct
  • Interfering in one manner or another with images and text to avoid having them flagged
  • Making public fake ‘claims’ of disassociating from IS when they are actually supporters
  • Creating duplicate accounts in case their current profile is banned

These are just a handful of methods and strategies employed by these individuals and as Moustafa Ayad highlights, they also use different sets of tactics depending on the platform. It is worth noting, however, that there are plenty of overt displays of pro-IS activities on Facebook and Instagram. The following images are examples of Southeast Asian Facebook users who convey their support for IS directly through their profile photos: 


Key Takeaways 

In summary, this initial review of current pro-IS activities on Facebook and Instagram highlights the proposed key takeaways for mainstream platforms: 

  • Pro-IS accounts are successfully evading content moderation through a variety of methods, including but not limited to, altering visual propaganda, utilising text disruption methods, locking their profiles on private mode, and implying a pro-IS stance without using ‘red flag’ wording.
  • Pro-IS supporters are continuing to grow their networks facilitated by both other pro-IS accounts and mainstream social media algorithms which streamline the snowballing process by automatically suggesting ‘similar profiles.’
  • Although many individuals employ evasion strategies to decrease the risk of being banned, there are also a plethora of profiles that overtly disseminate visual and textual IS propaganda without making any efforts to obscure their activities.
  • Large pockets of pro-IS supporters continue operating unhindered due to gaps in content moderation for certain languages – it is in these instances where IS profiles appear to especially be the most overt in their pro-IS activities emboldened by the fact that they are not being banned.
  • Fundraising for the camps in Eastern Syria is quite overt on both platforms and these initiatives are often interlinked across platforms.
  • Users who either lock their profiles or make them private are widely networking with other IS supporters ‘behind the scenes’. 

There are no easy solutions, but as Rae Jereza emphasises, issues regarding content moderation issues stem from structural problems. Jereza succinctly traces the relationship between the ability and desire to moderate effectively vs the pressures exerted by metrics performance expectations: 

The pressure to remove ‘objectionable’ content on platforms falls on third-party vendors who subject workers to extreme conditions in the name of pleasing clients…even when Meta’s content moderators believe in social justice and can identify coded speech against people of colour, productivity metrics discipline them into aligning with policies they disagree with.”

The subject matter of pro-IS activities on major platforms merits further study and possible research directions could include exploring factors that contribute towards an account’s longevity on these platforms, how individuals in pro-IS circles socialise with one another, the types of content pro-IS users post on Facebook and Instagram as examined through a qualitative study, or perhaps a comparative study exploring behaviours on Facebook vs. Instagram (and other apps).