ISIS's new audience: You

This was actually an old tactic adopted to new technology. During the U.S. war in Iraq, when ISIS, in an earlier incarnation, was known as as al Qaeda in Iraq, the group learned “how to engage a U.S. audience and get at them,” according to Clint Watts a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. The difference now is that ISIS no longer depends on intermediaries to broadcast its barbarism. In this new environment, the group’s media arm can upload its propaganda and see it spread globally in a matter of minutes or hours.

Unlike the cloistered online forums where jihadist groups once did most of their communicating, Twitter and Facebook are both open and public by nature. That meant that as ISIS took to these platforms it became easier for any fighter on the battlefield to pose next to mutilated bodies and post images that could easily be seen by anyone following the fighting. The people who saw it most often in 2013 days were ISIS supporters, who were turned on by the savagery, and the group’s enemies, who must have feared that it could happen to them next…

Addressing its American audience, ISIS is actually speaking to at least two different groups. To the vast majority who are repulsed by the group it is boasting of its power and trying to make people believe that even inside America they are vulnerable. But there is a far smaller and more dangerous group that ISIS isn’t trying to scare — but inspire. ISIS wants to “keep their rhetoric out there, keep themselves visible and hope that someone acts on it for them,” said Watts of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He believes that ISIS currently lacks the ability for a coordinated attack inside America but that they may speak to “troubled kids” who could independently, or with minimal support, “put together something like a Boston marathon kind of attack.”