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A jihadi forum associated with the Islamic State (IS) militant group has warned its members to avoid using the popular WhatsApp messaging application, citing security concerns.

WhatsApp Messenger is an instant-messaging application for smartphones and is used to send text, audio, video, and images.

A Twitter account linked to one of the Islamic State group’s online forums, AlPlatformMedia, tweeted a link to an announcement warning against the use of WhatsApp that has been shared on the JustPasteIt website.

The announcement warns that even though WhatsApp is a popular application for instant messaging, including among "ordinary Muslims," it is not secure and is being used “in the war against the mujahedin."

According to the announcement, WhatsApp is helping the National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to spy on users. Use of WhatsApp poses a threat to the sharing of information and pictures and a list of secure apps that can be used to share data will be released soon, the announcement says.

Considerable media attention has been given to the Islamic State group’s use of social media, including tools like WhatsApp, audio sharing site SoundCloud, and microblogging site Twitter.

In August, Twitter banned large numbers of pro-IS accounts after a video showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley was widely shared on the site. Some IS accounts migrated to Russia’s VKontakte social network, leading to that site banning a number of accounts linked to Russian-speaking IS factions, as well as other pro-Islamist accounts affiliated with Syria-based groups.

The account closures on VKontakte have made the pro-IS groups more careful about how they operate on social media. Many group members simply opened new accounts under different names or migrated to different social networks, such as Russia’s Odnoklassniki or (to a lesser extent) Facebook and Tumblr.

While one aspect of IS social media use is propaganda -- the broadcasting of pro-IS news and information to a wider audience outside its supporters -- social media is also used to spread information within smaller groups of specific IS members. This is particularly the case with Russian-speaking IS members, who have used social media to create networks. While the VKontakte bannings disrupted these networks, they have not disappeared completely and have become more security conscious.

Popular among Russian and Chechen-speaking extremists in Syria, linked to IS or other groups, is the Zello app, a service for smartphones that acts as a push-to-talk walkie-talkie service and allows users to talk to each other, usually on private channels.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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