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Study Examines ISIS Propaganda Strategy

Study Examines ISIS Propaganda Strategy Homeland Security Today
 A study released this week said the Islamic State (ISIS) is going to great lengths to prove itself as a viable and functional transnational state.

Beginning to distance itself from glorifying acts of violence, over half of the 900 reports, videos and announcements produced by ISIS media teams in one month focus on civilianlife and statehood.

The Quilliam Foundation’s Documenting the Virtual ‘Caliphate’ report is the latest instalment of its research into ISIS propaganda strategy.

The report is an expansion of the foundation’s July 2015 paper, The Virtual ‘Caliphate:’ Understanding Islamic State’s Propaganda Strategy, and is based on an exhaustive 30 day survey of ISIS propaganda conducted across the Islamic month of Shawwal (July 17, 2015 – August 15, 2015).

Over the course of the month, Quilliam’s senior researcher on transnational jihadism, Charlie Winter, used a unique methodology to compile an archive of 1,146 separate propaganda “events” — discrete batches of media from videos and photo essays to audio statements and songs sung a cappella.

From the rigorous qualitative analysis that followed the data collection, a number of intriguing, important discoveries were made, among them the fact that over half of all the propaganda was focused on depicting civilian life in ISIS-held territories. Economic activity, social events, abundant wildlife, unwavering law and order and pro-active, pristine "religious" fervor underpin the foundations of the Islamic State’s civilian appeal. In this way, the group attracts supporters based on ideological and political appeal.

ISIS still markets itself with brutality. However, the Quillam report found the intended target audiences for its ultraviolence are decidedly more regional than they have been previously. It seems that fostering international infamy could now be secondary to intimidating its population with a view to discouraging rebellion and dissent.

Quillam also noted that a large proportion of all military-themed events is devoted to showing ISIS’ war of attrition, with mortars and rockets being fired into the distance towards an unseen enemy. Given the locations from which many of these reports emerge, as well as the fact that the aftermath of such strikes is rarely, if ever, documented, it is conceivable these low-risk, low-cost attacks are rigged, falsely choreographed attempts to perpetuate a sense of ISIS being "on the offensive."

In a statement, Quillam noted the volume of output produced by ISIS far exceeds most estimates, which have been until now necessarily conservative.

“Disseminating an average of 38.2 unique propaganda events a day from all corners of the Islamic State ‘caliphate,’ this is an exceptionally sophisticated information operation campaign, the success of which lies in the twin pillars of quantity and quality," the report stated. "Given this scale and dedication, negative measures like censorship are bound to fail.”

Additionally, the quantity, quality and variation of ISIS propaganda in just one month far outweighs the quantity, quality and variation of any attempts — state or non-state — to challenge the group. Evidently, all current efforts must be scaled up in order for meaningful progress in this war.

Quilliam’s Managing Director, Haras Rafiq, said in many respects ISIS is operating like a media company.

“Our response has to be proportionate," Rafiq said, stressing, "We must realize there is no elixir that can deliver us from ISIS’ information supremacy, and no catch-all counter-narrative to undercut its carefully cultivated and choreographed image. In this absence, we must instead seek to enrich our understanding. The ISIS ‘caliphate’ is marketing itself on an industrial scale. If we are to destroy its brand, we must first be able to fathom its depths.” 

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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