ISIS is undeniably talented. Despite our unwavering endeavors to demolish the group, we have not. Although our efforts have significantly impeded some of ISIS’s operations, and helped drive it out of parts of Iraq and Syria, ISIS-inspired attacks persist – and at an alarming frequency. Its perpetual existence is partly due to the group’s vast support base and remaining physical holding. Above all else, however, it is due to its masterful use of the Internet. Its utilization of cyberspace keeps its radicalization global.
The group uses the Internet to spread poisonous doctrines, militant tactics, and graphics displaying their violence or their ability to govern. It maintains a comprehensive media machine, including a unit dedicated primarily to Westerners. Each of ISIS’s two-dozen operational territories across the Middle East, North Africa, Central and SE Asia houses a media team that shadows fighters in battle, records and propagates executions, publicizes upcoming local events, and then edits and distributes content according to the group’s messaging objectives.
When fighters worldwide flocked to the group’s strongholds, ISIS leveraged their linguistic skills to translate propaganda materials and leadership statements into many foreign languages. ISIS has compartmentalized the group’s video dissemination and assigned media teams to focus on various segments of the target audience, whether Western populaces, local Syrians and Iraqis, Kurdish forces, or its own fighters and supporters. The group then delivers its radical ideology to the global masses using the very technology billions of people around the world depend on.
Regardless of how much territory ISIS loses, its messaging will still reach and likely convince a massive audience that it is effectively playing “David vs. Goliath” against the world’s largest military coalition. It works through the obvious public sources like Twitter, but when it has been impeded from doing so, it has resorted to what is called the “deep web” and to a Russian-created massage service called Telegram, to elude the eyes of the intelligence agencies. It has even found a way to use the cloud services offered by Microsoft and Google.