Al Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist and insurgent groups have cultivated an advanced social media presence. It serves a much more important purpose than do traditional information operations campaigns that Western militaries have been developing for the last few decades. For Islamist groups, their social media platforms are part recruiting tool, part fundraising tool and part branding tool. Video of victorious Islamic warriors parading captured Western equipment and hundreds of kaffir prisoners does wonders for the the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) brand, which in turn attracts volunteers to its ranks and money into its coffers.
The latest offensive in Iraq by ISIS shows exactly how professional the 'electronic jihadis' really are, and this excellent article in The Atlantic shows how sophisticated its social media strategy is and how ISIS uses it to create a social media reality. Even if the claim that ISIS massacred 1700 Shi'a following their victory in Mosul may not be true, when the intent is to exacerbate intra-religious tensions and create an environment in which reconciliation or even national unity is impossible, unverified images are good enough.
One of the reasons why so many non-Arab Muslims have gone to Syria to fight is because social media has created a narrative for them in which their national and ethnic identity has been superseded by their religious one. That isn't an easy thing to do if a person critically examines arguments offered on the internet, or engages in dialogue, or is deeply embedded within the society in which they live. But those aren't the people that this type of social media targets. And if Syria has proven to be such a good destination for fighters recruited over the internet, then the longer Iraq drags on and provides vision of a successful ISIS, the more chance that non-Iraqis will be attracted to their cause.