Authors: Lorando Bodo and Anne Speckhard
Date of Publication: 23rd April, 2017
Journal / Publisher: International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism Publications – Brief reports.
Purpose of the study
How does IS propagate its propaganda.
Design of the study
The study used online observation to establish how propaganda information flows from ISIS to consumers.
Type of ‘participant’
Online Facilitators of Propaganda and Extremist Material.
Understanding how IS Propaganda is distributed. This includes encouragement to travel and conduct attacks on home soil.
The article points out that while ISIS was rapidly losing territory, they were continuing to win on the ‘Digital Battlefield,’ maintaining a strong recruiting presence on line and that the West must fight back. The article discusses how Social Media companies have ‘Take Down’ policies and have developed technology to detect terrorist propaganda and remove it. The ‘Redirect Method’ developed by Google goes further than this in that it detects certain key words in a search and directs the user to content which counters ISIS propaganda. Despites these safeguards ISIS propaganda endured on mainstream Social Media sites and ISIS encouraged use of encrypted applications such as Telegram and Whatsapp. The study looked at the distribution of ISIS material on the ‘Surface Web’ and found that there were several social media accounts, websites and forums hosting ISIS Propaganda and that these linked back to a single source. They named the source the ‘Daily Harvester.’
The study identified ‘Daily Harvesters’ and shows they are vital for the propagation of IS Propaganda Material. It also showed that it was relatively straight forward to identify Daily Harvesters and how they operate. The study looked at the distribution of ISIS material on the ‘Surface Web’ and found that there were several social media accounts, websites and forums hosting ISIS Propaganda and that these linked back to a single source. They named the source the ‘Daily Harvester.’
The Daily Harvester is a person or group of people that collects official ISIS propaganda and incorporate it into daily bulletins for wider consumption. They monitored one Daily Harvester for a month to see how they disseminated material. They identified a 4 phase process.
- The Daily Harvester monitored official ISIS media outlets
- They collect published audios, documents, news, photos and videos and collates these into a single document.
- The briefing is then uploaded onto a ‘paste website’ which generates a unique link which can be shared.
- The link is shared on social media, forums and websites.
The Daily Harvesters are responsible for making ISIS material easily accessible. The authors point out several attacks where perpetrators were inspired by online material.
The authors recommend two strategies:
- Disrupt the dissemination process by developing AI software which searches for the hashtags and links used by the Harvesters (this can actually be carried out with existing Web Mining software used in marketing). Also, take into account the age of social media accounts as new facilitation accounts were set up daily.
- Counter the propaganda with counter narrative materials which appeal to ISIS followers, which include testimonies by IS insiders to provide authenticity, use the same hashtags used by the Harvesters to reach out to those looking for ISIS material, and post counter narrative material on the same ‘paste’ websites.
The study does not advocate the taking down of Harvesters themselves as they are easily replaced and there are plenty of them, although there is the suggestion that consumers could be found using malware.
IS has a very effective and sophisticated propaganda and recruitment strategy. It uses much iconic imagery, references to extremist messaging and well produced videos and glossy magazines glorifying Violent Jihad and the Caliphate. They also use Social Media to identify vulnerable recruits and use one to one grooming to build trust and exploit the grievances and desires of prospective recruits. Contrary to popular belief, IS require support beyond the Battlefield to distribute their extremist material and evade Law Enforcement monitoring. The Daily Harvesters provide a vital role in the distribution of extremist material ensuring that it is accessible to those who choose to consume it. They often do this on their own initiative and are not necessarily directly tasked by IS, but take it upon themselves to spread the word as self-imposed franchisers. This article offers practical solutions to disrupt IS propaganda by understanding the distribution network so that it can be disrupted and the same techniques can be used to deliver the counter narrative. The ICSVE have also looked at the distribution of material across the World and found that the highest consumers of extremist material per capita where the UK and Albania.
The study shows how the Counter Narrative can be delivered by the use of interviews with disillusioned IS Recruits and Escapees. Several such interviews have been created by the ICSVE and they have direct potential IS followers to these resources. Such initiatives can also be used in the Prevent and Deradicalisation spaces to show that the reality of life under IS is not what is promised in their glossy brochures.