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Abstract

Social media has quickly become a dominant mode of professional and personal communication. Unfortunately, groups who intend to perform illegal and/or harmful activities (such as gangs, criminal groups, and terrorist groups) also use it. These covert networks use social media to foster membership, communicate among followers and non-followers, and obtain ideological and financial support. This exploitation of social media has serious political, cultural, and societal repercussions that go beyond stolen identities, hacked systems, or loss of productivity. There are literal life-and-death consequences of the actions of the groups behind these covert networks. However, through tracking and analyzing social media content, government agencies (in particular those in the intelligence community) can mitigate this threat by uncovering these covert networks, their communication, and their plans. This paper introduces common social media analysis techniques and the current approaches of analyzing covert networks. A case study of the Syrian conflict, with particular attention on ISIS, highlights this exploitation and the process of using social media analysis for intelligence gathering. The results of the case study show that covert networks are resilient and continually adapt their social media use and presence to stay ahead of the intelligence community.

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