July 8, 2015

Is ISIL winning the information war?

The challenges of countering ISIL online.

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) continues to control a significant part of northwestern Iraq, including the country’s second largest city, Mosul. They dominate much of the eastern half of Syria and are engaged in ongoing battles in both countries. They are behind the recent attacks in Kuwait, Tunisia, and Egypt.

However, ISIL’s reach extends beyond the territories they control or the places they strike. Through a sophisticated social media network, this armed group is spreading fear by publicising its gruesome crimes, disseminating information about its achievements around the world, raising funds, and reportedly recruiting close to 1,000 new members a month. 

With high-quality videos posted to YouTube, smartphone apps, online chatrooms, and Twitter/Facebook accounts sending messages in multiple languages, ISIL has become very good at using new tools in waging their information war.

At least 46,000 Twitter accounts were actively promoting the work and ideology of ISIL between September and December 2014, according to a new study from the Brookings Institution.

The US State Department has repeatedly said that “countermessaging” is essential to defeating ISIL. But President Obama’s administration has acknowledged the armed group is far better at spreading its message than the United States is at countering it.

So why is it so hard to defeat ISIL in the information war? We discuss at 19:30 GMT.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:

Humera Khan @khanserai
Executive Director, Muflehun 

Alberto Fernandez @VPAFernandez
Vice President, Middle East Media Research Institute

Anne Aly @AnneAzzaAly
Founding Chair, People Against Violent Extremism

Hanif Qadir @HanifQadir
Founder, Active Change Foundation

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.