ISIS Communication Strategies
Like any social or political institution, ISIS needs communication strategies, information campaigns, propaganda, and technological access in order to manipulate its audiences, inspire volunteers, and complete the general tasks of public communication. ISIS is sophisticated and relies on any number of communication strategies in order to further its goals. ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has set numerous persuasive goals: He seeks to reestablish the caliphate and must convince others of the worthiness of this achievement; ISIS competes with al-Qaeda and must position itself competitively as the two groups compete for status and recognition. And, for lack of a better word, propaganda plays an important role in motivating and encouraging fresh recruits into the ISIS psyche so they will carry out brutal acts of violence and further jihadist propaganda. Essentially, ISIS uses two general strategies of persuasion. You can read more about ISIS persuasive strategies here.
The first is based on the value of establishing cultural resonance between individuals and the traditions of Arabic and religious rhetoric. More specifically, sermons delivered by ISIS leaders exploit the rhythm and metaphors of liturgical sermons. These sermons have a long history and theory of oratory and narrative that defines the Arab world. ISIS leaders will invoke the structure of the Quranic verses – which include prayers, invocations, quotations, and sermons – all in the service of messages designed for religious or political purposes. al-Baghdadi’s speech announcing the establishment of the caliphate is a good example of his use of narration and religious invocations to justify his arguments. Moreover, he invoked religious symbols and structure to justify ISIS’s policy of violence including execution, imposition of sharia law, taking of hostages, and violence if necessary toward rival political and religious factions.
The second predominant persuasive communication strategy is the adept use of various communication channels designed to reach targeted audiences. ISIS’s early use of the Internet was quite successful at maintaining anonymity, finding specific audiences, and presenting innovative forms of propaganda. The Internet is able to handle longer disquisitions on politics as well as shorter messages and video. But the Internet is also full of misinformation, potentially poor security, rumor and innuendo, as well as a host of other mistakes and distortions. Consequently, the Internet has lost some of its power and effectiveness although it is still an important persuasive tool.
ISIS’s magazine called Dabiq remains a successful publication outlet that seeks to provide religious and political justification for ISIS. You can read about it and retrieve a copy of Dabiq from its Wikipedia page here.
In addition to online magazines and Internet sites, ISIS broadcasts on a radio station (al-Bayan) as well as a TV station. The TV station makes for sophisticated possibilities with respect to programming and high quality visuals. Social media are often used very skillfully to create characters that signify historical leaders and powerful individuals who speak the language of jihad and express opinions and historical claims consistent with the ISIS political agenda.
ISIS could not succeed without some communication and persuasive strategy designed to produce messages that direct their desired audiences toward a particular definition of reality. ISIS has been particularly adept at discovering effective channels of communication and exploiting them. And, of course, their use of traditional Arabic religious symbols and liturgy has been crucial to their success. But we should remember that all forms of communicative contact have security vulnerabilities capable of being breached. This is a breach we must step into in order to moderate, if not defeat, these messages.