Just minutes after The New York Times broke the surprising news on Monday that U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel would resign, supporters of the Islamic State began celebrating on Twitter with a triumphant hashtag. The tweets described the defense secretary's resignation as a massive victory for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and were accompanied by a hashtag that loosely translates to "The Islamic State Topples The American Defense Minister."
According to officials cited by The Times, Hagel's departure is part of the Obama administration's effort to shift tactics in the fight against ISIS, a rationale that the extremist group's followers quickly noticed.
A tweet from Pieter Van Ostaeyen, a Belgian analyst who runs a blog on the Syrian war.
— Pieter Van Ostaeyen (@p_vanostaeyen) November 24, 2014
The numerous tweets are predominantly in Arabic and often accompanied by graphic ISIS propaganda. Much of that media specifically features Hagel, suggesting that the images were quickly assembled in the wake of the news. In one particularly disturbing image, Hagel is shown being killed by a militant while the words 'Who's Next?' appear in blood beside them.
This is not the first time ISIS has used hashtags to spread its message, though in the past it has often done so by taking over already established or trending hashtags. This past Saturday, the group's supporters hijacked the designated hashtag of the Halifax International Security Forum, in an effort to spread a propaganda video showing British hostage John Cantlie. Similarly, the Guardian reported in September that Islamic State followers on social media were co-opting topics like Scottish independence and tennis champion Andy Murray.
Twitter has taken to deleting users who are spreading graphic or threatening material related to ISIS, but as fresh accounts or backups pop up, some manage to make it through what can be a difficult game of social media whack-a-mole.