Meet the young women of ISIS — on the social web

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Marco Werman: As we've reported this week, ISIS militants are not just fighting on the ground in Iraq and Syria. They also have a sophisticated web presence. BuzzFeed's Ellie Hall explored one part of that - young women, often from Western countries, who claim to be ISIS members on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. Ellie Hall: I found, quite disturbingly, teenage girls and girls in their early 20's who have left their families and gone to the Middle East not just to marry but to actively be involved as best they can in this fight against the Western world. Werman: Give us some examples of the posts, the online conversations, that you came across. Hall: What was most disturbing about it was the way they combined memes, smiley faces, emoticons while talking about things like the beheading of journalists. For example, one user who calls herself "JihadiJane" on Twitter, posted a picture of the beheading of journalist Jim Foley with the caption "If this doesn't bring a bit of comfort and ease to your heart, then check yourself." This is a young woman who identifies as a former citizen of the United Kingdom. So, these aren't women from the Middle East necessarily. You are seeing women from the United States and the United Kingdom and all over the world; Canada. Werman: So these young women supported these really gory actions that ISIS is taking. Jihad, it's my sense, the word means different things to different people, coming out of the generic sense of jihad, which means "struggle." But based on what you've found, do the men and women in ISIS have the same understanding of what jihad means in practice? Hall: From what I've observed, instead of a struggle, they see jihad, and they refer to themselves as jihadists, as this war against the Western world, this quest to establish a nation, a caliphate, where Islam is the only law and everyone in the kingdom practices the faith. Werman: What does that mean practically for women, to be a jihadist? Hall: What was weirdest to me, as a young woman, was the fact that these women went to the Middle East, knowing that they would immediately be married to men they had never met before. That's part of the recruitment speech, actually. One user on Twitter tweeted to remind her followers that "there is not a single woman fighting in ISIS. The woman's place is in her home, looking after her kids and fulfilling her duty to her husband." So, these women are there for the sole purpose of being housewives and eventually having children and raising their children to be fighters. Werman: This one tweet that you point out in your article writes "Only after becoming the wife of a mujahid do you realize why there's so much reward in this action." Hall: Yeah, and the pictures posted, they completely echo this mentality. There's one picture, a woman heavily veiled standing next to a smiling man with a gun strapped across his chest, with the caption "The love of Jihad till martyrdom do us part." And that’s the ideal. I've seen many posts by women who have lost their husbands and are happy about it because their husbands died doing great work and they've gone to heaven and they will see them there eventually. Werman: I gather that since your article was published last night on BuzzFeed, some of the social posts you've embedded in the piece, the links, were actually removed or blocked from public viewing? What's that about Hall: Facebook has deleted the posts that were originally embedded in my story after the publication had been up for about 12 hours. I reached out to them for comment and they said that these accounts had violated their terms of service because they do not allow terrorist groups to use Facebook. Werman: Where do you think all of this is headed? Hall: I don't think it's going to disappear from the internet. One of the things that I saw that was most disturbing was all of these women who are actively posting, they don't just have one social media account. They have two, three, four Twitter pages, they plan for things being taken down. Werman: Ellie Hall, a reporter with BuzzFeed News. Her article on all of this is called "Inside the Chilling Online World of the Women of ISIS." Ellie, thanks very much. Hall: Thank you for having me.