Propaganda of Islamic State

  • Jonáš Vlk
  • 15.5.2017 09:10

Although the propaganda alone is not sufficient to recruit new radicals, coupled with more frequent use of social networks – with minimal resistance from the service providers – it can contribute to self-radicalisation of lone perpetrators of terrorist attacks.

The territorial losses which the Islamic State (IS) recently suffered in Syria and Iraq result in its decentralisation and changes in tactics, bringing more focus to global terrorism. These changes are supported by the IS propaganda spread via online magazines and social networks. This form of propaganda deviates from the originally exclusively regional focus on fighting in Iraq and Syria and justification for the establishment of the caliphate, and instead focuses more on the international impact and radicalisation of new jihadists in Europe and North America. Although the propaganda alone is not sufficient to recruit new radicals, coupled with more frequent use of social networks – with minimal resistance from the service providers – it can contribute to self-radicalisation of lone perpetrators of terrorist attacks.

The long-standing ideological source and foundation of the IS propaganda are online magazines, the no longer published Dabiq and its follow-up Rumiyah. Dabiq, first published in July 2014 shortly after the fall of Mosul, was mainly focused on the justification for the establishment of the caliphate. It presented the IS as a functioning political organisation with its own network of institutions and put forward religious arguments to justify its ideology. At the same time it supported the recruitment of new fighters and their emigration to the caliphate. When Rumiyah started being published, as a follow-up to Dabiq after the IS spokesman Abu Muhammed al-Adnani died, the focus of the magazine changed. Although the Arabic version of Rumiyah still mostly concentrates on regional issues, the other language versions, including English, German, French, Turkish, Russian, Bosnian, Kurdish and Indonesian, are specifically aimed at inspiring ideologically motivated attacks abroad and, using strong emotional context, are focused primarily at young Muslim radicals in Europe and North America. The issue from last November also featured an article titled "Just Terror Tactics" for the first time, which motivates readers to commit attacks in Europe and the US and also presents the recommended modus operandi. This topic is still alive in Rumiyah, for example in this January issue which inspires incendiary attacks and includes instructions on how to claim responsibility for such attacks. No such article appeared before in any previous issue of these magazines.

 

"The IS propaganda normalises the perception of violent acts and can bring the selected individual into an enclosed communication bubble."

 

The aforementioned online magazines are supported by propaganda on social networks, which is a key aspect to the IS for two reasons: it increases the impact of terrorist attacks and enables recruiting new radicals, especially in Europe and North America. Regarding the recruitment of new fighters into the ranks of the Islamic State, the propaganda alone is not enough, but it helps reduce the sense of danger from entering a terrorist organisation and normalises the perception of violent acts. On social networks, it can also bring the selected individual into an enclosed communication bubble with limited plurality of opinions and a view of the world compliant with the IS ideology. Subsequently, it is no longer difficult for the so-called enlisters of the IS to approach the individuals directly and to convince them to emigrate to the caliphate or become a sleeping cell in their homeland. The propaganda efficiently targets lone perpetrators, so-called lone wolves, individuals who have gone through the process of self-radicalisation due to the purposeful promotion of the IS ideology, often together with social and economic reasons, and inspired themselves to commit terrorist attacks in the name of this organisation. In fact, this is also demonstrated by the increased risk of terrorist attacks in Europe, carried out either by radicals inspired by this ideology or attackers who were persuaded to commit the attack by the Islamic state with the help of social networks. Let us recall, for instance, recent cases from Berlin or London.

Social networks enable the global sharing of a terrorist attack virtually in real time or even live streaming, which was used for the first time by terrorist Laross Abballo in 2016 to justify holding a three-year-old child hostage after murdering the child's parents. This enhances the attack's impact and consequences and serves as another tool for spreading fear. The gravity of the situation and the importance of cyber security is also recognised by companies such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft, who joined forces in advancing against this type of propaganda in 2017. However, the fight against the activities of the IS on social networks remains problematic due to slow account checking and, more importantly, so far there are no tools that would effectively detect a live stream with inappropriate content in real time, even though Facebook hired 3,000 workers specifically for this task. Even account blocking does not present a big issue for Islamists as they can restore the account immediately after being deleted and send notifications to their original subscribers. Therefore, creating a Twitter account only takes minutes, while the administrators spend up to 48 hours with the deletion process. In the future, we can expect an increasing frequency of use of social networks for this kind of propaganda, despite enhanced efforts to prevent these activities.

Due to the number of foreign language versions of the online magazine Rumiyah and a broad scope of activity on social networks of the IS, which requires a large number of propaganda specialists, the current importance of the online IS propaganda is obvious, as such a wide range of activities requires plentiful funding. It is, therefore, more than likely that with the decentralisation of the IS and the focus on international terrorism, the issue of propaganda will play an increasingly important role for the Islamic State due to its wide impact, and will significantly support the IS international strategies and become increasingly more concentrated on activities in Europe and North America, focused especially on spreading fear and gaining new sympathisers and radicals willing to carry out attacks in the Western countries in the name of the Islamic State.

About author: Jonáš Vlk

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