Western nations continue to see a flow of people, mainly young adults, attempting to enter Syria and Iraq to either fight for ISIS or to marry into the marauding army. Despite efforts at the State Department to counter enemy propaganda with some harsh realities about life the so-called caliphate, ISIS’ attraction has continued almost unabated. While Westerners may be mystified at the phenomenon, the Department of Justice’s National Security division warns that people have underestimated the sophistication and reach of ISIS propaganda. It has become Mad Men for mujahideen, their spokesman told ABC News last night:
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ISIS terrorists are expertly using hip hop music, video games and even children to successfully recruit young people to their violent cause. That assessment comes today from the FBI and from top U.S. counterterrorism officials, who say the ISIS social media machine is sophisticated, prolific, and unprecedented.
“They are shooting out into the ether-sphere thousands and thousands of messages a day, over 90,000 a day and it’s to millions of people across the globe,” John Carlin, the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division told ABC News Correspondent Pierre Thomas. “What they are trying to do is to convince young people to go slaughter civilians in a vicious war.”
The online messaging is slick — far broader and more subtle than the vicious beheading videos the public is too familiar with, according to Scott Talan, a social media and marketing professor at American University. Talan viewed about a dozen ISIS propaganda videos with ABC News’ Pierre Thomas, and said he is shocked by the quality of the messaging the terror group is putting out.
“This is sophisticated. It is Madison Avenue meets documentary film making meets news channel with sensibilities and marketing value,” Talan said.
The State Department has at least attempted some counter-propaganda communications that explain the nature of ISIS, but there’s not much sense that the “Think Again Turn Away” campaign is winning many hearts and minds. For one thing, the State Department doesn’t hold much cachet with the target audience, which is hardly the fault of State but is the reality in which this works. Those who are disaffected enough to be attracted to murder and mayhem as a way of life, or spiritually so lost that violent and extreme Islam seems like a way to have an identity, are unlikely to say to themselves, “Wait — what does our State Department have to say about these cool guys?”
Sen. Ron Johnson might have the right idea for an effective counter to ISIS propaganda. They know how to package ideas and products in a way that will reach people, but more to the point, they know which partners to find as public faces for these campaigns. Why haven’t we seen celebrities get more involved in this effort, for instance? If professional PR firms get involved, perhaps they’ll start looping some of their clients into the projects too, and outshine the propaganda ISIS produces. ISIS is selling a fantasy, one that ends in slavery, bloodshed, and oppression; surely our overwhelming advantage in entertainment can be used to sell liberty and freedom.
Hollywood and Madison Avenue teamed up for that purpose for World War II, and made the fight against tyranny, oppression, and genocide clear. Today, on the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, perhaps we should ask them why they’re still on the sidelines while their target audience gets exploited by the enemy. Time to step up, film and recording artists, and save the youth who make you rich.