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How ISIS have weaponised social media

ISIS have weaponised social media to take the conflict in the Middle East to a new level of sophistication in the battle for hearts and minds of young people. Accusations of faking hostage videos which some say are constructed in “green screen” studios to better control the psychological impact is just one aspect of how experts claim the terror group are using modern media techniques.

Young people are targeted increasingly and urged to take the risk to join the organisation. They are groomed to go and fight for the expanding sphere of influence and control of the Caliphate across the Middle east and beyond. Videos like this which ISIS put out on youtube recently to celebrate their arrival in Yemen – an Al Qaeda stronghold for several years – is typical of the production values and slick editing they are becoming known for.

Silvia Cambie, an Italian-born social media commentator and blogger living in the UK, says ISIS have made their forerunners Al-Qaeda redundant by their superior grasp of how to use contemporary communication to further their cause far more effectively. There has been an increasing number of young people, some as young as 14, attempting to cross into Syria and Iraq from Turkey, with varying degrees of success. Some are caught before they make it and those old enough to face trial for the intent to commit terror are being jailed for up to 12 years back in their country of origin.

The effect is to mask the real nature of the terror group which is intensely violent and murderous. Young women are particularly vulnerable when they place their trust and future in the hands of the organisation. They are sold at market, raped and abused. Videos have emerged of ISIS fighters bragging how they will “look at their teeth” to check their health in the market before taking the girl as a wife temporarily.

Silvia Cambie says in her blog:

“I had been wanting to study ISIS’s communication strategy for a while. Ever since my time in post-communist Eastern Europe I have been interested in the impact the propaganda of totalitarian regimes has on the human psyche.

An example I find particularly unsettling is that of British journalist John Cantlie. Cantlie is a war correspondent for a number of British newspapers including The Sunday Times and Sunday Telegraph. He was kidnapped in Syria in November 2012 and is still in the hands of ISIS. In September last year, he began to be seen in a series of videos in which he tells the story of his kidnapping and declares to have been abandoned by his government (because the UK unlike France and other countries does not negotiate with terrorists for the release of hostages). After the “Lend me your Ears” series came “Inside”, a series of documentaries in which Cantlie plays the “host-hostage” role and reports about life in the caliphate.

I watched the video with Cantlie’s reportage from the streets of ISIS-controlled Mosul and I felt chilled to the bone. It is not only his accent that unsettles me… Yes, granted… there is this sense of familiarity. This guy talks in the same way as those journalists I watch on BBC when I work out in the gym in the morning….

But what really upsets me is that… In my previous life as a journalist I knew many people like John, I used to sit around in press centers and go drinking with them. His style is so close to home. Seeing him showing us through the market in occupied Mosul or visiting a school and saying things like “it’s not true that under the Islamic State education will suffer” is the same as hearing it from a friend. The fact that ISIS is using “one of us” makes the threat feel so much closer.”

To read Silvia Cambie’s blog in full go here.

Simon Ludgate
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