One click at a time
Late last month, Fox News broke an exclusive story about how the dramatic uptick in social media use by ISIS militants and their supporters has led to problems in the intelligence community. Due to a recent increase in online activity, ISIS has been able to effectively clog the pipes with so much content and discussion that analysts are having a hard time distinguishing rhetoric from legitimate threats.
Not only is ISIS really good at propaganda, they’ve also been incredibly effective in getting people to play along. Their social media game is strong, and recently, the extremist organization has made moves to up the quality of their presence on more traditional mediums—namely, TV and video.
It’s all part of a tactic to reach beyond their strongholds in the Middle East and into the homes of young men and women in the west. Al-Bayan, the ISIS-controlled public radio network, is described as sounding similar to NPR; similarly, videos posted to YouTube and various ISIS websites display a marked increase in production value, all aimed at catching the attention of people who are used to being fed quality propaganda, as opposed to the grainy, shaky offerings of a few years back.
The AP offers a great description of what ISIS is using to inundate potential recruits:
Islamic State videos come with thrumming beats, handsome clear-eyed young men and editing techniques that call to mind tourism commercials. A typical week of recruitment now includes multiple newscasts in three languages, except the “good news” is about suicide attacks instead of traffic reports and baseball scores. A polished video directed at French recruits shows trainees leaping through burning hoops and swinging across monkey bars over flames. And a metastasizing network of tweets spills forth from the smartphones of armchair cheerleaders.
Cameramen themselves are heroes in this information war: Media, an unnamed fighter says in a video dedicated to these PR muhajedeen, is “half of the battle, if not its majority.”
An April video calling for doctors to join IS shows physicians in immaculate scrubs, as well as functioning medical equipment. It features a blue-eyed Australian moving about in a pristine neo-natal ward, promising new recruits that they will be helping Muslims who suffer from “a lack of qualified medical care.” The video has the feel of a daytime television public-service message.
In an exchange on the social networking service Ask.fm the same week, a person identifying himself as a British resident of IS territories promised newcomers free medical school. Meanwhile, in a series of tweets, another person purporting to be a Briton praises subsidized gas, free water and dental care superior to anything offered in the West.
In March, US officials doubled down on an information campaign designed to deter new recruits from joining ISIS. They mixed old school with new school, using a variety of media tools as well as vintage-style leaflet drops to make their point. ISIS’ efforts to reach new audiences isn’t going unanswered, but their progress with regards to the quality of their recruitment materials has skyrocketed, which leads me to the unsettling conclusion that, while they may have embellished about their media budget, they certainly have the capacity to do some damage.
Meanwhile, those already committed to the cause continue their battle for control in northern Syria. Today, fights broke out near the Turkish border:
Islamic State fighters captured four villages and a town from al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, and its allies over the past days in battles in the area.
On Tuesday, the pro-Islamic State Aamaq News Agency released a video showing fighters with the group as they captured the northern village of Umm al-Qura. The video showed the fighters marching in fields near the village, as well others shooting from what appeared to be the roof of a building.
“Thank God, with His help the brothers of the Islamic caliphate advanced at several northern countryside villages,” an unidentified Islamic State fighter said in the video. “God has made it easy for us to get hold of their necks and we were able to kill 35 and what is coming is worse for them than this.”
The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other Associated Press reporting of the events.
Reinforcements are being sent to the region, but ISIS may not be the only enemy they’re forced to engage:
The fighting came a day after U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said authorities heard reports that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad launched airstrikes supporting the Islamic State group’s advance.
“Beyond that, we have long seen that the regime avoids ISIL lines, in complete contradiction to the regime’s claims publicly to be fighting ISIL,” Harf said, using an alternate acronym for the group. “As we have long said, Bashar Assad has lost legitimacy long ago and will never be an effective counterterrorism partner, despite what he might say publicly.”
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