Picturing the Islamic State’s online propaganda: vanishing or resurfacing from the World Wide Web?

Miron Lakomy, Kosciuszko Institute, explains the future of the organization and how it has evolved.


Abstract

This paper attempts to contribute to academic discussion on the current state and capabilities of the Islamic State’s digital propaganda. Its primary objective was to measure and analyze one month’s output of the “Caliphate’s” cyber jihadist machine, released on the non-Arabic “surface web.” It also attempted to identify the dominant themes and types of productions exploited by the Islamic State during this period. It argues that the long-term campaign attempting to cripple the propaganda of Daesh on the Internet has not yet brought satisfying effects. Its productions in various forms are still easily achievable on the non-Arabic “surface web,” even through standalone websites, which are rarely and slowly banned by the law enforcement. In this context, while its releases are still easily accessible by the average Western Internet users, their quality and quantity were visibly reduced, which makes them slightly less alluring for some potential audiences. This, in turn, confirms that the current, difficult situation of this terrorist organization has had a significant impact on its digital jihadist capabilities.


Introduction

Since 2016 the Islamic State has suffered an aggravating crisis. Significant defeats on the battlefields of Libya, Iraq and Syria, symbolized by the losses of Sirte, Mosul and Raqqa, were followed by serious problems encountered by the Internet propaganda machine of Daesh.1 Its most prominent cyber jihadist capabilities have been impaired, which was caused by both kinetic (airstrikes conducted by the US-led coalition) and cyber (tech firms curbing the propaganda more efficiently) actions. In effect, the selfproclaimed “Caliphate” has ceased to publish its most sophisticated and resonating productions, such as flagship online magazines (“Dabiq” and “Rumiyah”), or a series of execution videos of Western hostages. Moreover, the quality and quantity of its other releases have significantly decreased.2


However, the crisis of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s organization does not mean that it has lost all of its former abilities to influence Internet users. Despite the joint efforts of numerous international and local actors in the Middle East and Central Asia, the pockets of Islamic State’s resistance in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are still noticeable.3 Persistence of its militants has surprised the academic community, media and Western political elite which expected its quick downfall after the loss of Raqqa.4 A similar situation is visible in cyberspace. While the propaganda machine from Daesh’s apogee in 2014 and 2015 is nowhere to be seen, the organization has been able to maintain limited presence on the Internet.5 This has been proven by numerous releases in recent months, which succeeded in drawing the attention of the mass media.6 This basically means that the “Caliphate’s” cyber jihad still poses a significant threat to international security.


This paper attempts to contribute to academic discussion on the current state and capabilities of the Islamic State’s digital propaganda. It is a result of a research project entitled “Picturing Islamic State’s Propaganda: Towards Digital Decline?”, which was carried out in September and October 2018 at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies of the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. Its primary objective was to measure and analyze one month’s output of the “Caliphate’s” cyber jihadist machine, released on the non-Arabic “surface web.” Its secondary objective was to identify the dominant themes and types of online productions exploited by the Islamic State during this period. In other words, the project attempted to understand how Daesh’s propaganda on the Internet has adapted to the crisis experienced by this organization. The study was based on a number of open source intelligence techniques (OSINT), limited content analysis, as well as quantitative methods.


Keep reading and access the full article here.


Suggested Citation:

Lakomy, Miron, Picturing the Islamic State's Online Propaganda: Vanishing or Resurfacing from the World Wide Web? (December 1, 2018). Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies Research Paper No. RSCAS 2018/70. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3298932


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