Review: The Islamic State’s Social Media Machine

Review: written by Harriet King

BBC world service aired a documentary podcast on May 5 called ‘The Islamic State Social Media Machine’.The podcast centres on discussion surrounding online radicalisation and ISIS indoctrination through social media.

The 28-minute documentary gave incredible insight into a multitude of perspectives. It essentially discussed ‘can the West meet the online challenge posed by jihadists?’ In answering this, researchers spoke about how ISIS have forgone the traditional Middle- Eastern terrorist stereotype of ‘old man sitting with a beard’ and moved to Hollywood style productions of graphic violence. All of the group’s videos are translated into English and other European languages, to ensure the audience know these videos are targeted directly at them, unlike before when threats were broadcasted in Arabic.

One person I found interesting to listen to is Daniel Kruler, director of the German institute on radicalisation and de-radicalisation studies, who said he believes most schemes against radicalisation fail because they involve the kind of people extremists love to hate; spies, police and mainstream preachers. Kurler also states a lot of people have a distorted vision of what really encourages ISIS recruitment; ‘radicalisation is nearly always stemmed from family and social environments’. He has found that in most cases those recruited are western Christians, who sometimes have no Muslim background at all.

Kruler believes the solution is to provide an alternative; ‘Countering online propaganda is difficult because they can shut off what they don’t like, we need to introduce positive solutions and alternatives i.e. working for charities in their own countries. We need more colour to the picture, so the ISIS lifestyle doesn’t seem attractive – to plant doubt in their mind in a positive way.’

A point I found very interesting in the podcast, after reading a vast amount of articles discussing indoctrination, was that we could fundamentally remove all ISIS online propaganda if internet companies invested more into programmes tackling ISIS. Many people ask ‘why can’t the videos just be removed from the internet?’ But it appears that companies such a Google, who also own YouTube, have made no real progress in monitoring propaganda videos.

While there are some programmes that attempt to monitor online propaganda, only small groups of people actively remove the videos. The director of public policy for Google, Victoria Ground, states that YouTube uses a platform where videos are not reviewed before being uploaded, but insists Google has a ‘a system that works well to take the videos down’. However, since the videos are still available online, clearly this programme needs to be active on a more industrial scale.

On some level, I agree with those who choose to not remove the propaganda. The Internet is a very open place, and to have no evidence of terrorism on the Internet would further fuel peoples ignorance to conflict. T

hose who online search the words ‘ISIS’ should be introduced to a large variety of information, whether it’s a newspaper article or exposure to graphic videos, it gives people the perspective they need. I understand some people cannot handle the graphic violence, but it’s essential people are aware of what is happening in Syria, instead of living obliviously. In this case, ignorance really isn’t bliss, and the podcast highlights that ISIS recruitment is a reality, and something the Western world needs to tackle immediately.

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