ISIS vs. the U.S. government: A war of online video propaganda

  • William H. Allendorfer Department of Second Language Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington
  • Susan C. Herring Department of Information and Library Science, Indiana University, Bloomington
Keywords: conflict, discourse, ISIS, ISIL, persuasion, video, Islamic State, Department of State

Abstract

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) relies heavily on propaganda in the form of videos distributed over social media to recruit supporters and new members to its cause, including from the U.S. The U.S. government has countered with anti-ISIS propaganda videos; however, sources claim that the U.S. is losing the propaganda war. We evaluate that claim through a comparative multimodal content analysis of the ISIS video Flames of War and the videos posted in response on the U.S. Department of State’s (USDS) Think Again Turn Away YouTube channel. Our findings shed light on some of the reasons why the USDS anti-propaganda videos are less rhetorically effective than the ISIS videos, including a one-dimensional narrative, a stance that could appear inauthentic, and a lack of sensitivity to Islamic culture. In concluding, we advance recommendations that the USDS could follow to strengthen its online propaganda defense against ISIS, and extend the implications of our findings to other social media fronts where the ISIS vs. USDS propaganda war is being waged.

Author Biographies

William H. Allendorfer, Department of Second Language Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington
William H. Allendorfer is a Ph.D. student in Second Language Studies at Indiana University. His research focuses on second language acquisition and use in online discourse. His other interests include computer-mediated communication, Arabic, language pedagogy, and pragmatics.
Susan C. Herring, Department of Information and Library Science, Indiana University, Bloomington
Susan C. Herring is Professor of Information Science and Linguistics and Director of the Center for Computer-Mediated Communication at Indiana University Bloomington. Her research focuses on structural, pragmatic, interactional, and social language use in digital communication. Her recent interests include multimodal CMC and telepresence robotics. She is a past editor of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication and currently edits the online journal Language@Internet.
Published
2015-12-14
How to Cite
Allendorfer, W. H., & Herring, S. C. (2015). ISIS vs. the U.S. government: A war of online video propaganda. First Monday, 20(12). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v20i12.6336