Media and “Framing“ in the Anti-ISIS Campaign
CDA Institute guest contributor Christian Medina-Ramirez, a freelance writer based out of Bogotá, Columbia, offers his thoughts on how to provide a counter-narrative to ISIS’ media prowess [You can follow Christian on Twitter @cmedina1990].
Canada is once again engaged in fighting an insurgency in the Middle East. The “surprising” rise of the so-called Islamic States (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq has left many policy makers baffled. The West, Canada, and our NATO allies seem to be admittedly ignorant on the source of this success. Even though there are many “interesting” facets to the ISIS strategy, and yes, there is a well thought out strategy behind the seemingly random acts of terrorism engulfing many of our allies, I want to focus on media discourse and control.
Insurgencies rely heavily on media control and message. Carefully planned and reproduced messages influence the way individuals comprehend the world around them and render significance to otherwise meaningless actions…
…ISIS’ massive and effective social media presence makes it difficult to control and regulate their messaging via the Internet. Focusing too much on the disrupting the communication, instead of controlling the collective action frame is a mistake. It is true that the medium of interaction has changed. If anything, the Internet has made the substance of the message even more important. An increase in public access, dramatic cost reductions in both production and distribution, and a greater understanding of how to exploit images that create and reinforce a particular ideology or narrative has benefitted insurgents. The fact of the matter is that insurgent groups are now able to reach many more individuals, in a cost effective way. Controlling the message, more so than tracking and disrupting networks of communication, should be a focus in the campaign against ISIS or any other insurgency for that matter.
We are losing the media war and our current efforts are weak and misguided. In America, for example, current actions to counter ISIS’ messaging are stifled by slow bureaucracies and unimaginative initiatives [see “Quelle Surprise! ISIS’ Tweeting Beats State’s“]. Supporting and empowering moderate Muslim voices, for example, is a nice gesture, but it doesn’t ultimately effect ISIS recruitment efforts or message. Furthermore, creating an “alternative narrative” reiterating that ISIS is a brutal group of thugs targets the wrong audience – specifically those moderate Muslims who would never support ISIS to begin with.
We simply don’t understand our target audience. Condemning over and over again ISIS’ horrible actions is futile. Young people on the verge of radicalization care little about such a critique. In fact, they might be attracted to ISIS’ brutality and medieval worldview. Instead, we need to focus on discrediting ISIS in more subtle ways: in Internet terms, we need to start trolling ISIS…