Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
I wanted to take a moment to briefly chart out the general flow of how I understand ISIS communicates it’s media messages to its audiences. I hope this provides some good insights into the process that is constantly shifting and adapting to a challenging environment that seeks to limit the group’s activities. The media war with ISIS takes place on two levels where they communicate: Surface web broadcast channels (Twitter, Telegram, YouTube, etc), and then their tactical communications channels that exist on the dark web. These two things are interdependent and have to exist congruently for ISIS to achieve the media saturation that they have. Now the real magic behind their platform is that none of this is actually that illegal. They are using widely available channels and scripting platforms to disseminate, manipulate, and multiply their message in ways that are very hard to redress, short of rewriting the platform architecture for things like Twitter or Google Ads.
Now this is interesting and I got this from my data scientist friends: in the last three months Twitter has claimed to have taken down 120,000 ISIS Twitter accounts, but, in reality, they are all “bots” designed through open source scripting platforms for around $50 to drive SEO (Search Engine Optimization) traffic to mirror sites or portals that are stood up on the dark web for the purposes of propaganda dissemination and tactical communications. Within these Twitter takedowns – on the dark web side – my data scientist friends only saw a 1% reduction in the overall trafficking of communications through all of their internet channels [in aggregate].
So, what does this mean? Unless platforms like Twitter develop mechanism on how to prevent “bot” networks from driving the traffic to propaganda sites there is not really much that can be done, since, once again, for $50 you can develop these scripts that can fire out millions of “bot” tweets in near real-time. This means fighting the actual dissemination of propaganda becomes almost impossible, making things like surface web counter-messaging (like we are doing at AP Math Labs) that much more important.
In addition, just like many reputable companies who employ “click fraud” to boost traffic to their websites or to charge customers for clicks for advertising, ISIS is also engaged in this practice, generating a stream of income through their bot armies and collaborators.
Then there is the problem of earned media. Every time ISIS publishes some good propaganda it gets picked up by news sites globally – both locally and internationally. This means young people who want to interact with their content don’t actually have to look far for it – it is as easy as getting on heavy.com or jihadology.net. Nonetheless, ISIS claims to maintain 35 x administrative districts with 19 x of those being in the Levant, with each one of these administrative districts having a “media office” attached to it. Each media office on average produces 33 x pieces of content a day – direct or indirect.
So when mapping the surface of ISIS, we traffic-connected ISIS media needs to be linked to the way they physically administer the Caliphate. No one is really totally sure if the media reach – in terms of media offices – is just perceived or actual, but it gives the appearance of legitimacy to the Caliphate. And in no uncertain terms these media offices are force multiplying their media capabilities giving the perception that they are something greater than they are. The most recent media releases, recently came out of a Philippines “media office”. Attached to this blog is an image from the Quilliam Foundation on how ISIS distributes media through their various media offices.
Raymond M. Mori – USA
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 21