It was September 2014, and machine gun and artillery fire had erupted in small villages just west of Kobani, Syria. The Islamic State had started a siege on the border town, strategically entering through nearby villages. That same week, researchers at the University of Miami who were tracking online extremist groups saw a flurry in activity.
“It was like the spreading of a fever,” said Neil Johnson, head of research for the study. Johnson and his team saw an uptick in the creation of pro-Islamic State groups on Russian social media platform VKontakte.