ISIS media machine showing major signs of breakdown

Salaam Times

Members of an ISIS media team are shown in a screenshot from an ISIS video published earlier this year. [File]

Members of an ISIS media team are shown in a screenshot from an ISIS video published earlier this year. [File]

The once-prolific propaganda machine of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) has been steadily shrinking following security operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

ISIS media channels on Telegram and other platforms have been noticeably absent of high-quality imagery and videos in recent months, and a sharp decline has been witnessed in the past few weeks.

The aftermath of a number of recent high-profile attacks has exposed the flailing terrorist group's increasingly threadbare publicity operation.

For example, following the August 17 ISIS-claimed suicide bombing of a wedding party in Kabul, which killed 80 people and wounded almost 200, the terror group released only text messages. In times past, the terror group would post pictures, videos and other sorts of media-rich content.

In other recent attacks in Iraq and Syria, the group has posted low-quality images, a far cry from the high-tech postings of years past.

ISIS's deterioration on multiple fronts

Multiple reasons set ISIS's publicity machine on a downward spiral.

First, the territorial defeat of ISIS in the Middle East in March was a huge blow to the propaganda nerve centre of the group, as many of its main operators and propagandists were either killed or arrested after the destruction of the so-called "caliphate".

Second, a number of security and intelligence operations since then have curbed the group's technical capabilities, such as the July 10 operation in which security personnel seized more than 100 ISIS computer servers in Iraq.

ISIS used these servers to broadcast its acts of terrorism and to intimidate the civilian population and to provide "field media coverage" of its actions in Iraq and elsewhere, according to Iraqi intelligence.

An Iraqi army unit recently confiscated a cache of broadcasting equipment that ISIS's Amaq radio station used, said the Iraqi Defence Ministry.

In April, Afghan forces arrested six ISIS members in Kabul who admitted to using fake social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Telegram to run a propaganda campaign against the Afghan government and to recruit new members.

"Stripping ISIS of these systems and technical capabilities represents a major goal of the security forces at this stage," said Iraqi analyst Ahmed al-Sharifi.

The third reason is the group's loss of influence over public opinion, he said.

"Civilians, especially those who lived through the period when ISIS was in control, now realise how the group's ideology is devoid of religious and humanitarian values," he added.

ISIS's media operation is dwindling because the group itself has collapsed, said analyst Ahmed al-Sharifi.

It no longer controls any territory and has lost access to most of its former sources of revenue, he said.

'Fading away'

Heightened security pressure has deprived the group of most of its media platforms, technology, videographers, sound technicians and propagandists in addition to other personnel, said Kazem al-Miqdadi, who teaches mass communication at al-Farabi University College in Iraq.

Authorities have made a targeted effort to put up barriers thwarting ISIS elements and supporters from propagating the group's ideology and from spreading its messages online and "particularly on social media", he said.

"The ISIS media machine is fading away," al-Miqdadi said, noting that the group has "lost credibility and no one fears them anymore".

Abdul Salam al-Samer, who teaches advertising at Baghdad University's College of Media, stressed the importance of targeting ISIS's media machine and the technology it uses to spread disinformation and conduct psychological warfare.

"We need to continue destroying its technological capabilities and its cells that are responsible for creating media content," he said. "We have to disable its digital access and dismantle its social media platforms."

But undermining those capabilities is not the only thing that has to happen, he said, noting the need for active anti-terrorism messaging in the mainstream media.

"Long gone are the days when the public was sympathetic to the messages released by ISIS after its lies and deceit were exposed," he said. "But this means we need to work on further entrenching the public's resentment of terrorists and always reminding it of their despicable deeds and crimes."

"We need to target their deviant ideology through social awareness programmes and documentaries and TV programmes that can counter-influence their thinking," al-Samer said.

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