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Evaluations on the Propaganda Produced by ISIS

ISIS, in contrast, is a publicity whore. While it’s important to keep ISIS’s propaganda and social-media activities in the proper perspective (no one was ever killed by a tweet), it’s clear that ISIS considers messaging one of the most important fronts in its war with the world — and it’s also the primary method by which ISIS extends its influence outside of its physical domain in Iraq and Syria.(On Time.comJessica Stern and J.M. Berger are the authors of "ISIS: The State of Terror."

No one ever killed by a tweet?... I can think of at least 20 people who would disagree with that statement if they were alive to do so. While I have avoided this area during the last several years, with the rising usage by ISIS and the propaganda war between Russia and EU growing steadily I've decided that avoidance is no longer acceptable, since our Nation is getting very little information about an extensive event.

If you have particular articles, tweets, or other events of propaganda related to this post you would like to see used during the evaluations, you're welcome to posted them in the side bar form or the other inside the page listed as well.

I'm very sure that Stern and Berger| are far more versed on the details, tactics and status of the group known as ISIS than I am. My focus has been on the propaganda used inside our boarders and I have done little research on ISIS as a group. With the growing use of propaganda produced by ISIS and the propaganda war going on between Russia and the EU, I'm spending more time evaluating tech and method from that area - on the academic level. However as days, months and weeks pass I find that our media exhibits very little knowledge on the subject of propaganda -- or practical information. This disturbs me. I don't like the possible reasons for limiting the scope of understanding to the nation's citizenry on the effectiveness, the possible dangers and the long term affects of what is going on across the Atlantic.

For the moment let's take a look at what Stern and Berger are offering to us in their article. The first insights they give us are the possible goals of this group with the current campaigns.
  • To project an image of a victorious, functioning state with the aim of retaining its current recruits and attracting new ones
  • To goad its enemies to invade ISIS-held territory by disseminating images of atrocities — perpetrated against both humans and ancient artifacts — while projecting an image of invincibility, to plant doubts that military response can succeed
  • To excite those with violent tendencies using images of extreme brutality
  • To advertise the benefits of joining ISIS, including free housing; ISIS-approved schooling for children; wives; and access to sexual slaves
  • To blame any conflict that does result on the aggression of Western governments and the incitement of “Zionists”
  • To recast any military action against ISIS as an action against Muslims in general, specifically by highlighting civilian casualties
    from the article of Stern and Berger
None of my commentary in this post should be construed as making "corrections" or even a causual professional commentary on the work that Berger and Stern are engaged in. I have nothing but respect for their work and would not feel qualified in evaluating their work. This post is only an evaluation of  the information they have provided, the supplied methods given to us and how to move forward with this if the reader feels they wish to.

It is a wise and a practical practice to keep 'method' and 'goal' separate, This list is written for an article to be published to the general public, so the rules change for presentation of information, but for my readers who tend to want to understand the process of evaluation in greater detail, keeping method and goal separate is desired. The most compelling reason for this is the strong possibility of missing methods and other possible goals.

Example, the last point on the list, the goal is stated to be
"To recast any military action against ISIS as an action against Muslims in general" 
That is a clearly stated and reasonable goal for a group like ISIS to want from their propaganda campaign -- to a Western mind. One of the reasons I don't do a great deal of evaluation on propaganda being used on citizens of other countries is the time expense involved in understanding the point of view, cultural aspects and values of the culture. My baseline understanding of Muslim culture questions the validity of this goal. If it was stated of a US terrorist group, it would be easier to accept at face value. What springs to mind from a Muslim perspective is the depth that their culture values family and group reputation along with the tight scope of what they will recognize as 'Us'.

A group of Americans desiring this goal is easier to accept because we have a cultural vision of "Americans". It is an effortless ability to envision "Our Nation" or "Shore to Shore". When the 9-11 attack on NYC was announced, it was clearly evident that millions of people were affected by the attack in a deeply personal way, as if the WTC buildings stood adjacent to their own block, inside their own neighborhood. The outcry was instant, personal and nationwide.

  • What is the name of your Postman's daughter? 
  • Who does the butcher at your grocery store believe is the best candidate for your school board? 
  • Who is the leader of your school board?

It is my limited understanding that a Muslim in that area would be able to answer those questions with no hesitation and would know the background surrounding all of the answers -- but have very little information or interest in the group 10 miles away, and those in another city would hold no interest (read "value") at all. When Palestine is attacked, do the Muslims of Iraq feel that their own neighborhood has suffered as well? These are two separate countries but what is proposed as the goal is 'all Muslims' and I question the goal as it is worded because I'm not sure Muslims feel a cultural connection which fits that stated goal. So that is where we start with that goal -- verification of validity and then evaluation of benefit.

I'm going to stop at that point and we'll take it back up in another article.

The method is "highlighting civilian casualties" which on first evaluation looks to be a common variation of the Atrocity Letter method, Deflection and Us v Them Solidarity. Again however, even if these methods are being utilized, are they being used for the purpose we were given as connected to the action? Again, I have strong doubts that this is the case, but can't offer anything further.

So we have a set of proposed goals and methods. I do not doubt either list's validity at all right now. I do suspect strongly that once we've looked closer -- we'll discover more prominent goals, several secondary goals and as for methods we'll have to look at those on a one on one basis.

ISIS Displays a Deft Command of Various Media

Berger and Stern also offer what they feel would be an effective counter-propaganda campaign. Here I'm on firmer ground, and on the surface this is not going to be as effective as they hope. As I do not question their professionalism or their knowledge of the group in question, I'm confident I'm much more versed in counter-propaganda and the tactics which do and do not work.

Here is their list and it is valuable because while I'm certain of the ineffectiveness of the methods proposed, it gives a clear insight into what two knowledgeable professionals feel are the top areas of concern and highlights where they see ISIS efforts are most effective.
Stop exaggerating ISIS’s invincibility: A first step in countering ISIS is to put it in perspective. We should not downplay its threat below a realistic level. But neither should we inflate it. ISIS relies on its projection of strength alongside the illusion of Utopian domestic tranquility. Even under coalition assault, it has labored to maintain its aura of invincibility and defiance. When Western policymakers discuss “degrading” ISIS, it should be in the context of forcing ISIS to make visible concessions in order to counter military pressure. Strikes designed to degrade the group’s real internal strength are good, but our targeting priorities should also aim to expose vulnerabilities for counter-propaganda purposes.
Amplify the stories of the real wives of ISIS, and other defectors: We need to amplify the stories of defectors and refugees from the areas that ISIS controls. For example, one of the three British schoolgirls who left their East London homes in February, apparently to join ISIS, had been in contact with an infamous ISIS recruiter, Aqsa Mahmood, who specializes in recruiting young women to serve as “jihadi wives.” Stories about the horrific real lives of jihadi wives need to be told, by women who manage to run away. 
Take on ISIS’s version of Islam: ISIS has developed convoluted arguments about why it engages in war crimes that are forbidden by Islamic law. Hundreds of religious scholars have taken on ISIS’s interpretation of Islam. Those arguments need to get to the right audience: ISIS’s potential recruits. At least some of those recruits can be reached via social media, including via one-on-one conversations. 
Highlight ISIS’s hypocrisy: ISIS makes much of its supposedly puritanical virtue and promotion of chastity, whipping women who do not wear attire ISIS considers appropriate and executing gay men by throwing them off the tops of buildings. Yet according to the U.N. and ISIS’s own propaganda, its fighters are involved in a wide range of horrifying sexual abuse, from sexual slavery to the reported rape of men and women, including both adults and children. In this area and many others, ISIS’s deranged double standards should be addressed head-on. 
Publicize ISIS’s atrocities against Sunnis: We need to fully exploit aerial and electronic surveillance and remote imaging to show what really happens in the belly of the beast. We should pay particular attention to documenting war crimes and atrocities against Sunni Muslims in regions controlled by ISIS. It is patently obvious that ISIS has no qualms about advertising its war crimes against certain classes of people — Shi‘a Muslims primarily, and religious minorities like the Yazidis. ISIS claims to protect Sunnis from sectarian regimes in both Iraq and Syria. While ISIS is happy to flaunt its massacres of Shi‘ites and Iraqi military personnel, it has been relatively quiet in regard to its massacres of uncooperative Sunni tribes. Our counter-messaging should highlight the murder of Sunnis in particular. 
Aggressively suspend ISIS social-media accounts: There is a robust debate over the merits of suspending extremist social-media accounts, which encompasses a complex set of issues including free speech and the question of who should decide what content is acceptable. What we do know, based on an analysis of tens of thousands of Twitter accounts, is that suspensions do limit the audience for ISIS’s gruesome propaganda. The current rate of suspensions is damaging the ISIS social-media machine. The practice should be maintained at the current rate at the very least — but it would be better to get more aggressive.
With these two lists and the other information we have available from their article, we'll do an evaluation of some of the methods ISIS is using and also go through the process of clarifying the goals of a violent group whose culture is certainly different than ours.

I do not accept the "exhibited" level of understanding produced by the media publications (the versions we see inside the US) on the topic of propaganda. I find it unlikely that men and women of the caliber we have covering International affairs could be so limited in awareness that they can not evaluate the scope of practical threat and danger presented by the tactics in the war between Russia and the EU, or those used by ISIS

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