Time to read: 10 minutes

Cyber Jihad

Understanding and Countering Islamic State Propaganda

By Dr Christina Schori Liang, Senior Programme Advisor and Senior Fellow, Terrorism and Organized Crime Cluster Leader
1 February 2015
GCSP Policy Paper 2015/2 - February 2015
Caption: GCSP Policy Paper 2015/2 - February 2015

Cyber Jihad

Understanding and Countering Islamic State Propaganda

By Dr Christina Schori Liang, Senior Programme Advisor and Senior Fellow, Terrorism and Organized Crime Cluster Leader

This year, the world became fixated on the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)1 . Most recently, the organisation has given itself the name Islamic State (IS) -- this paper will refer to the organisation as IS. IS is a linear descendant of Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi’s “the Organisation of Jihad’s Base in the Country of the Two Rivers”, which was commonly known as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) formed in 2004 to fight the American invasion of Iraq. In the last year, IS strategic military campaign has taken over large swaths of Syria and Iraq at lightening speeds, taking its opponents by surprise. Its political and ideological campaign is equally aggressive; it has taken on the Internet and social media by storm. IS has forced a sea change in the way we understand modern terrorism. IS has not eclipsed Al Qaeda, which is still very relevant and dangerous, but it has physically broken away from Al Qaeda’s leadership. IS continues to profit from the roots of Al Qaeda’s already highly developed communications strategy.

Key Points

  • Islamic State (IS) has a sophisticated and effective communication strategy that uses online media tools to disseminate its multidimensional propaganda. It has populated social media platforms and has attracted a global network of supporters that articulate, magnify and circulate its violent extremist messages worldwide.
  • IS is strategically recruiting young men and women worldwide, using Internet sites, online magazines but mostly social media tools, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and AskFM.
  • The online Internet frontline needs to be better defended. Censorship and removal of extremist content is ineffective. Current government sponsored counter-narrative and counter-extremism efforts are largely inadequate in suppressing IS extremist ideology from spreading on and offline.
  • Throughout the world there is a need to better address the roots of radicalisation, which is being driven by the ideological appeal currently cultivated by extremist groups online.
  • It is important to build and extend international cooperation to support the creation and dissemination of credible content and positive alternatives to counter extremist narratives on- and off-line.

Dr Christina Schori Liang - Senior Programme Advisor and Senior Fellow, Terrorism and Organized Crime Cluster Leader