The feature image. I hope it got your attention, because it caught mine. Just like this bold text has hopefully done. Take another look. The clear yet powerful background image, positioned cleanly behind simple and emotionally strong language:
We Are All ISIS.
There is a twisted appeal to the image – one that is both aesthetically attractive but also emotionally compelling.
And that should scare us all.
While much simpler than a visually stimulating ISIS propaganda image, a bold text – when used correctly against a generic one – can create an almost aesthetically appealing and compelling emphasis on the viewer. Why the seemingly arbitrary commentary on bold text?
Because it provides a not-so-perfect but simple analogy as to how ISIS has emphasized various propaganda outlets such as social media, online messaging, and visual propaganda to inspire thousands of foreigners to flock to the war-torn battlefields of Syria and Iraq, in support of the global jihadist movement.
Like a bold text, ISIS propaganda masters are able to use visual and aesthetic material (among other brands and forms of communication, as SOFREP has previously reported regarding terror groups’ use of Twitter) to emphasize “themes of individual duty, unity, and Islamic resistance” – all of which are assessed as contributing to the unprecedented number of foreign fighters surging into ISIS’ bloodthirsty ranks.
Enter the analysis of this practice, courtesy of the University of Maryland’s START Consortium, which SOFREP has previously provided as an excellent resource for information, research, and analysis on terrorism.
While perusing some recent coverage of the day’s latest shitshow in the greater Syria region, I came across the following gem, which analyzes foreign fighters’ use of social media and mobile apps to “recruit aspirational supporters in the West…[ultimately creating] a paradigm shift within the global jihadist movement.” That is to say, the old organizational model of Al-Qaeda has been thrown out and replaced by a bloodthirsty movement that knows no organizational structure: ISIS.
Again, a paradigm shift. Using social media.
How’s this shift occurring? According to the START experts and their analytical brief, it’s online radicalization. But trust me, reading this does absolutely NO justice to the quality of analysis performed in the START report. Yes, I realize it probably sounds like I get paid to say that. But I don’t. So please continue reading.
Beginning with some major findings regarding the conditions that allowed ISIS to take full advantage of society’s constant reliance and use of social media, especially in the younger generations, the report continues to develop the reader’s understanding of how jihadists use social media, and how various terror groups have evolved their usage of social media to affect the global jihadist movement. The report finishes off with a strong in-depth narrative regarding the situation, and does well in making a case for the clear benefits that social media and the age of global connectivity, technology, and information exchange have provided the enemy.
Is there a solution to this problem? Not a clear one. I’d start with our own campaign of online “propaganda”, aimed at both countering ISIS’ social media use at home (to dissuade any potential individuals who may have somehow become radicalized online, which I admit sounds like a strange way to go), as well as mobilizing any potentially disenfranchised populations from which the majority of these fighters are coming against any existing ISIS propaganda. Not a perfect strategy, but at least it’s a strategy.
We have to keep in mind that terror groups, at their core (as Jack recently wrote regarding political terrorism) all want maximum publicity to be generated for their actions, using terror as a tool to gain the maximum potential leverage they need to effect some sort of political change that meets their objectives. Given that the internet is today’s tool of choice with which groups like ISIS have been able to gain such rapid ground in the realms of information exchange, propaganda, and recruitment, it’s only practical that we work to counter that to the best of our abilities.
As we’ve seen in previous cases of hacktivism or hashtag bandwagons, getting the right message to go viral only takes the proper application of emotionally compelling material or celebrity-backed fodder (think #bringbackourgirls and Boko Haram, which we saw earlier this year). From there we can target more specific online radicalization threats both in the homeland and abroad.
So without further ado and ten thousand apologies for what turned into quite the rant on how terror groups seek to survive at a fundamental level using social media, I present the START Consortium’s analytical brief on Transcending Organization: Individuals and the Islamic State.
Thanks for listening.
Feature image courtesy of some Islamist site I probably shouldn’t have visited. Again, can you say watchlist?