Signs that ISIS’s propaganda machine is losing its edge

The Economist reports: although IS still churns out plenty of propaganda, both its quantity and reach are diminishing. Tabulating the number of pictures uploaded in media releases by the group, Aaron Zelin, a fellow at King’s College London, notes a marked decline since a peak in midsummer. Citing other researchers as well as his own observations, Mr Zelin also believes the quality of productions has fallen.

Perhaps more seriously for the group, it is having a harder time getting its message out, too. Aside from the restriction on personal internet use, which affects recruiting, Western governments have successfully prodded a growing number of social-media carriers to make much more serious efforts to weed out and block accounts sympathetic to IS. Twitter has shut thousands of suspect accounts in the past year; before that, there were reckoned to be over 20,000 IS Twitter accounts. YouTube is much quicker to take down ugly content than before. Telegram, an encrypted instant messaging service that had been increasingly adopted by IS as a main channel for its media output, has been blocking the group since mid-November.

As a sign of its growing isolation on the internet, IS announced shortly after the Paris attacks that it would shift its propaganda archive to the “dark web”, a hard-to-trace part of the internet largely inaccessible to ordinary web browsers.

As if this were not enough, IS is also suffering from media competition. Its biggest rival, al-Qaeda, has lately boosted both the quality and quantity of its own press releases. Perhaps more galling still, another, less radical Islamist fighting group in Syria, al-Jabha al-Shamiya, recently produced a video that deliberately mocked the style and content of IS’s notorious productions. It showed a group of orange-clad prisoners—actually captured IS fighters—being lined up and made to kneel before their executioners. But instead of pulling their triggers, the soldiers proceed to pocket their pistols, and the astonished prisoners are treated to a sermon about the Islamic duty of mercy, before being led back to jail. [Continue reading…]

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