Radical strategies to counter ISIS’s online onslaught

ISIS online onslaught.jpg
Copyright: Zackary Canepari / Panos

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It is just over a year since the self-styled Islamic State, or ISIS, declared its ‘Caliphate’ in the Middle East, after capturing vast tracts of Iraq and Syria. Today, ISIS retains its bloody grip on the region and, with no end in sight for the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, volatility in the Middle East is giving the group a dangerous territorial advantage.
But while governments thrash out strategies to rein in ISIS territorially, there is another sphere where its influence is largely unchecked — the internet. The group’s flood of propaganda videos and social media posts demonstrate a level of media production and internet savvy that have stunned its opponents.
In this audio interview, we speak to Nico Prucha and Ali Fisher, two researchers of jihadist digital tactics. They explain how ISIS’s ‘media mujahideen’ use mobile phones and HD cameras to create films that take viewers “right into the middle of the heat”.
The group’s media mujahideen are also masters of digital distribution. Fisher says this is based on a strategy centred around speed, agility and resilience. By tapping into global networks of supporters across different social media platforms, ISIS safeguards itself against the loss of individual accounts, making its online dominance hard to break, he says.

Fisher calls for a more strategic approach to reduce ISIS’s online influence by inhibiting the group’s networks as a whole, rather than stepping in to close sites after they have posted ISIS videos. This will demand global partnerships across governments, technology platforms, academic disciplines and civil society. For example, Prucha explains how a project that brings together academics, anti-extremism activists and a Sunni Muslim organisation in Indonesia aims to both compete directly with ISIS’s attempts to tarnish the name of Sunni Islam and to present an alternative, positive picture of Islam.