The Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIL or ISIS) has gotten a lot of attention for its somewhat successful use of propaganda directed at the West. The most obvious example is its slick video of the beheading of American journalist James Foley committed by an English-accented jihadist. ISIL has "the most significant propaganda machine of any extremist group," national intelligence official Matt Olsen recently warned. "They're as sophisticated as anybody out there," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says.
Of course, in a warzone both sides use propaganda, and the State Department recently released a video of its own. The clip was actually published on Youtube several weeks ago, but just caught media attention this weekend. It's a pretty straight forward pitch: If you join ISIL, you're actually harming other Muslims and you're going to get yourself killed sooner rather than later.
It's got over 500,000 views … but it's also got graphic footage of beheadings and crucifixions, so it's probably not safe for work:
Playing catchup to ISIL's spread throughout social media, the U.S. government is also posting daily on the Facebook and Twitter. The campaign is called "Think Again, Walk Away" and it's geared at English-speakers who are tempted to join the terrorist organization. Britain recently raised an alarm because its defense department believe around 600 citizens have taken up arms for ISIL, though some estimate as many as 1,500 have. There are also an estimated 100 American citizens and a sum total of 3,000 Westerners who have joined the fight to establish a Caliphate throughout much of the Middle East.
America's information front focuses a lot on kids: ISIL isn't letting kids go to school, ISIL is eating meat while children eat bread, ISIL is killing children and using them as suicide bombers. It also features on individuals who became jihadists but are now disillusioned with the fight, as well as Muslims who denounce ISIL as hypocritical and unfaithful to the religion's teachings.
The first tweet (left) was sent out several days ago, and the other (below right) several hours ago. Some, like the "poisonous tree" (above), are written in direct response to ISIL's own Twitter propaganda.
The Islamic State is savvy about social media, to the point that Iraq had to block Facebook and Twitter earlier this year.
It's not too surprising that ISIL is so good at this type of propaganda, though. Many of its fighters are pop culture-consuming millennials, a fact that was made so strangely vivid when they were tweeting their thoughts about the death of Robin Williams and his films like Jumanji.