Tuesday, October 11, 2016

ISIS Propaganda Drooping? Does it really matter?

On October 10, 2016 the NY Times ran an article “ISIS Media Output Drops as Military Pressure Rises, Report Says’ (see:  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/11/world/middleeast/islamic-state-media-propaganda-isis.html?_r=0)      The article as based on a report prepared and released by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center at West Point which you can find at: https://www.ctc.usma.edu/v2/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/ISMedia_Online.pdf and is the photo source.

My gut tells me this is perhaps another incident where we have confused Measure of Production (MOP) with Measures of Effectiveness (MOE).  The article cites the following statistic: “At the peak of the Islamic State’s media output, in August 2015, the group released more than 700 items from official outlets in Syria and several other countries. During the month of August 2016, after a year of airstrikes and other assaults, that number had declined to under 200, according to the study.”

It is interesting to note that ISS favors pictures (59%) and Twitter (Photo) (30%) over Video (10%) according to the reports’  analysis of type of state media release from January 15 through August 2016 (page 31 of the report).  

Military and Governance appear to be the two most favored themes as show in another diagram from the report and a subsequent diagram shows that the production of these two these were virtually the same since January 2016.

While this analysis is helpful, does it help the Commander assess how strong his opposition will be?

The report has no illusions of grandeur and notes in its conclusion “In addition, this paper has not given insight into a critical component of understanding the efficacy of the Islamic State’s media success.” Isn't this what we really need to know? While we can feel good if ISIS production declines, we can conjecture that this means they feel they don't have the 'products' to sell anymore, they are still pretty good at the influence business.

Media exposure, especially visual media is like tooth paste, once its out, it doesn’t go back into the tube. The ISIS propaganda campaign has been relentless. It is reasonable to believe that there has been a cumulative effect of this intense effort. Audiences, especially those that have a higher propensity to be influenced have been effected and will continue to be effected even if the production numbers continue to decline.

While I certainly commend the report and its authors for their extensive analysis, if I were called into the CG’s office and asked “what does this really mean?” I’d have to respond: “Sir, we really don’t know. Perhaps the pace of new recruiting will abate, but those who were influenced by the early high production numbers are not likely to change their minds because ISIS is producing less propaganda”.

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