Even as Iraqi and U.S. forces make advances in the battle for Mosul, a new NATO report points out that Islamic State is not only winning, but dominating, a global content war.
The report focuses on an 18-month investigation by the Austrialian Info Ops HQ, called a “civil-military think tank” into Islamic State recruiting. The findings indicate the Islamic State “run a sophisticated peer-to-peer network, which is worlds apart from the perception that ‘social media’ alone radicalizes young men and women.”
It is a network that is getting results. The report states that the Islamic State “media strategy has long been lauded as one of the most horrific successes of modernity. But the truth is, ‘media’ isn’t a strategy and Daesh have demonstrated a sophisticated communications strategy that included media as a tactic.”
The report notes that the terrorist organization, often described as primitive in its methods of justice, applies a very modern marketing strategy. Their approach is little different from that of companies trying to market shoes or sunglasses or cars to millennials.
(The Islamic State) have both cultivated our appetite for their content war and dominated it almost exclusively, unopposed
_ a NATO report on the global content war against the terrorist group Islamic State
“The only difference is that – instead of marketing beauty products, clothes and cars – Daesh applied this content marketing blueprint to propagate terror,” the NATO report states. “The propaganda images of (Islamic State) target multiple audiences with precision… To the prospective jihadi, their content resonated … To everyone else – and indeed the majority of the world’s Muslims – that same content payload can induce feelings of terror and fear.”
The NATO report on the study notes that a desire to drag in online readers had led to mass media outlets to create “clickbait headlines that have steadily chipped away at global social resilience and cohesion” meaning “we have all become accustomed to a content war that we are unwilling participants in. The media, though, are not entirely to blame.”
The report notes the obvious: The information in the media would not be clickbait if people weren’t clicking. And, it notes, that has been an intent of the Islamic State’s methods. In fact, as a section heading states, the Islamic State method has been “changing hearts and minds.”
“(Islamic State) have both cultivated our appetite for their content war and dominated it almost exclusively, unopposed,” the report notes. “Western military forces – in most cases – are in fact anti-social. There is no real intention of engagement, no replies to comments or tweets. We busy ourselves measuring likes, comments, shares, retweets and reach but the parade of shallow vanity metrics being delivered in reports as a solid return on investment does little to measure or quantify the actual strategic effect applied.”
Which has led to a global brand awareness, and has been a boost to the terrorist organization’s recruitment.
It notes the careful framing of the brand, showing “fleets of Toyotas and jihadis tweeting photographs of their BMWs and gold plated AK-47s, to medical professionals walking through (IS) hospitals with a newborn baby in their arms, flanked by rows of neonatal incubators… Daesh’s ability to normalise a very abnormal situation is just as important as their projection of terror.”
The report doesn’t deal with the importance of eliminating the territory the Islamic State now occupies, and is in danger of soon losing. But it does state that “As Mosul falls, the threat of violent extremism abroad increases.”
The Australian study quoted counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen who wrote the terrorist group is “extremely adaptable.” To this point, they have shown the ability to grow both when doing well on the ground, and when coming from a perceived position of weakness. That will not change in the future.
The report states: “Knowing adaptability is part of their repertoire and, knowing they are under considerable military pressure in the physical area of operation, we should expect them to adapt once again – only this time on the online and social media battlefield.”