ISIS vs. THE U.S. GOVERNMENT: A WAR OF ONLINE VIDEO PROPAGANDA

William Allendorfer, Susan Herring

Abstract


The self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)is a militant group claiming the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in areas it has occupied since June 2014 in Iraq and Syria. ISIS relies heavily on propaganda in the form of videos and images distributed over social media to generate support and recruit new members to its cause, including from the United States.

To counter this trend, the U.S. Department of State (USDS) posts anti-ISIS propaganda online as part of a project called Think Again Turn Away that aims to advance “some truths about terrorism”2 and discourage young people who are drawn to the beliefs and actions of extremist organizations. The project has a dedicated YouTube site as well as accounts on Twitter and other social media, including accounts in Arabic, Urdu, Somali, and English, where videos and messages countering jihadist claims and arguments are actively posted.

For the purpose of this study, we sought out comparable samples of video from ISIS and the USDS. The ISIS video clips are taken from an hour-long film titled Flames of War, a high production-value propaganda video that ISIS released in mid-September 2014 on various online sites such as Liveleaks. We chose to analyze this video for several reasons: 1) as the first full-length video released by ISIS, it lays out the group’s overall ideology; 2) it includes explicit references to, and characterization of, the United States; and 3) the USDS posted a number of (shorter) videos over the following months that responded to many of the video’s claims. These response videos, of which eight were posted to the Think Again Turn Away website between September 2014 and February 2015,constitute our USDS sample.


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