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Measuring the Popular Resonance of Daesh’s Propaganda


Authors: W. M. Marcellino, K. Cragin, J. Mendelsohn, A. M. Cady, M. Magnuson & K. Reedy

Date of Publication: 2017

Journal / Publisher: Journal of Strategic Security


Purpose of the study

Key questions 

This article addresses the national security dilemma posed by Daesh’s social media-fueled expansion using Twitter data to measure the spread of Daesh’s propaganda over time for local populations within Egypt, a country where secular, moderate Islamic and extremist ideologies are actively competing for the hearts and minds of its population.



Empirical, corpus linguistics and statistical analysis

Number of participants

6,210,354 tweets.



Type of ‘participant’ 

Islamic terrorism/ISIS


Understanding whether applying an innovative approach to social media analysis (corpus linguistics and statistical methods) can measure the resonance of Daesh’s propaganda

Key findings 

This article used an innovative combination of corpus linguistics and statistical methods to gain insight into one of the most salient threats to US national security today: Daesh and its appeal to local populations outside Iraq and Syria. To do this, we measured the uptake of Daesh propaganda in four sub-regions of Egypt for 2014. The findings suggest that only a limited proportion of Twitter users echo the discourse of Daesh’s worldview, but where there is support is intense. Further, Daesh’s discourse gained ground during the course of 2014 in the Sinai and (to a lesser extent) Upper Egypt, especially in comparison to the Muslim Brotherhood.

In terms of the methodology, our findings suggest that resonance analysis can serve as a measure of effectiveness of messaging efforts, by detecting and quantifying the uptake of a particular discourse (and implicit framing of the world) among a populace over time. If applied correctly, United States policymakers and their partners overseas can use these methods to triage counter-messaging efforts against extremist group's recruitment and expansion. We point out this approach also can be used to assess the effectiveness of countering violent extremism (CVE) programs: we can turn this lens on our own efforts.

While we acknowledge serious limitations with this method (social media data is not representative, and measuring uptake tells us nothing about the why's of any change), in comparison to many other approaches to population observation, this methodology is highly cost effective to apply as mass scale. It uses off-the-shelf technology, lightweight computational strategies to enable analysis of large data with relatively few computational resources, and relies on social media data, which is affordable, available in real time, and of proven relevance in CVE efforts. 

Beyond these applications, we believe resonance analysis helps evaluate the potential second- and third-order effects of counter-terrorism efforts on local populations. For example, one can assess whether resonance with Daesh increases because of airstrikes against senior leaders or operatives, use it as an indicator of recruitment effects, or as an indicator of shifts in support in response to specified counterterrorism measures. Finally, resonance is a methodology that allows policymakers to capture quickly and less expensively socio-cultural dynamics essential in mitigating the threats posed by violent extremists.

Reviewer's Notes

The study took a grounded approach to linguistic and rhetorical theory that treats language and worldview as inextricably linked: real world language use informs our social and political world, and our social and political realities influence our language.

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