ISIS Plays Nice: The Softer Side

Thanks to all who made it to Monday’s talk.   I’ve put videos of the first hour of it into Ctools, the third section is uploading at a glacial pace.

A few extra notes:  Brookings has just published a twitter census of Isis accounts.  Here’s just one chart:

accounts_year2 (1)

Brookings Institution


This Newsweek piece analysed some the study:

The authors discovered that supporters retweet content sent by others within the network as a way to counteract the high number of Twitter suspensions of key influencers.

“Part of the reason it is so effective is because it is organic, it’s from the audience that it is going after,” said Shahed Amanullah, a former senior adviser at the State Department. “These young people understand youth frustration, they understand the fascination with violence, they understand that imagery and graphics that you see in Hollywood will attract these people.”

My favourite quote, that sums it all up, “The kumbaya message does not fly through the Internet the way a beheading video does.”

But it’s clear that ISIS suspensions are bothering ISIS, who have threatened Twitter founder and employees.   An ISIS ‘hit-list’ of US military culled from social media sites could also change the online behaviour of active military members, according to NBC news, which writes:

In response, they [the Defence department] advised the service members to stay off social media or limit their use of it.

The Defense Department has already gone to considerable lengths to educate service members on the risks of using social media, from posting geotagged photographs to writing about one’s whereabouts. Its recommendations — deactivate location data, don’t talk about coming travel, don’t accept friend requests from anyone you don’t trust — are similar to those that security experts advise for just about everyone, but with the stakes potentially higher.
Finally, this fascinating Vocativ piece looks at ISIS propaganda in a more nuanced way, finding the messages it sends to people in ISIS areas is quite different.

About 45 percent of ISIS propaganda centers on its efforts to build and sustain the caliphate. Along with roadworks and local infrastructure, there’s messaging on traffic police, charity work, judicial systems, hospitals and agricultural projects…..“It’s really striking, the fact that a lot of the ISIS propaganda is their utopia narrative,” said Charlie Winter, a researcher at Quilliam, a London-based thinktank.

Interestingly, what we see is a small slice of ISIS’s public relations effort.



A Distant War



IMPORTANT NOTE: Our class will be on Monday next week at 4pm in Mason Hall Room 3356.   The photojournalist Robert Nickelsberg will talk about his time in Afghanistan, and his book A Distant War. Here’s a review of it by none other than Dexter Filkins:

[Since 1979], the Soviets retreated, in 1989, ushering in an epoch of civil war that helped to bring the Taliban to power, in 1996. And then, in 2001, came the Americans. Entire generations of Afghans—not to mention journalists, diplomats, and aid workers—have come and gone.  Not Robert Nickelsberg. Nickelsberg, a photographer, came to Afghanistan for the first time in January, 1988, on assignment for Time, to cover the Soviet occupation, and has returned regularly ever since. Nickelsberg has documented each period with searching eyes and a fearless comportment, capturing the novel and the surreal in a war that never ends.


Robert Nickelsberg

Nickelsberg has visited Afghanistan more than 50 times, and continued to take pictures throughout the Taliban years (1996-2001), when photography of human beings was banned.  In this Nat Geo interview, he describes how he did that:

 Each trip was a gamble. You had to register with foreign ministry and were given a guide and were not allowed to work without him at your side. Everything had to come onto a wish list of stories or interviews and they worked on it for you. They’re also reporting back to their seniors about you, what you’re like, if you’re some narrow-minded gringo, did you only want to take pictures of women—or of schools, when schools were closed…..  You could see if they’d take money at the end of the day, ten dollars or five dollars. If they did, you could see what did it get you the next day. You’d have to try everything—luscious meals, heavy meat lunches. If they went for the bait, so to speak, you might have a successful or fairly successful trip, or at least get to every appointment you hoped for.

Look at his website and come armed with questions.  Blog of the Week this week is shared by Carolyn Gearig and Alli Cope for writing about the pressures placed on female journalists.