The Islamic State’s media system and its wise use of social networks helped the organization reach many target audiences around the world and recruit many young people to its ranks. With the loss of the organization’s strongholds in Mosul and Iraq in 2017, its media system took a turn for the worse; namely, a marked decline in the quantity and quality of its publications. This, according to a report published by the “Al-Azhar Observatory for Combating Extremism" (Marsad al-Azhar li-Mukafahat al-Tatarruf) on June 25, 2018. At the same time, Al-Azhar points to signs of recovery in the organization's media system since the beginning of 2018.
The “Al-Azhar Observatory for Combating Extremism " was established more than a year ago to monitor and challenge content inciting to violence and propaganda materials of Islamic terrorist organizations, especially the IS and Al-Qaeda, on the Internet. The unit was founded as part of the Institute’s national campaign launched in 2014 against the spread of terrorism in the country, with the blessing of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Al-Azhar Institute has existed for over than 1,000 years and is considered one of the most important religious authorities in the Sunni world. The Egyptian regime sees it as a spearhead in the ideological war against the radical thought of Islamic terrorist organizations.
According to the report, Al-Azhar identified three stages since the establishment of the Islamic State’s media system approximately four years ago:
In light of this assessment, Al-Azhar discussed whether the organization’s media system still has the influence on audiences that it did during the period before it lost territory in Iraq and Syria. Al-Azhar’s answer was unequivocal, “The Islamic State’s media system has weakened, and the power of its influence has decreased remarkably compared to previous years”. Nevertheless, Al-Azhar remarked that the organization ascribes considerable importance to its media system and will continue to strengthen it since it views it as a cornerstone in establishing its appeal. As previously expressed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the IS, “media jihad [is considered] half of jihad”.
The report also noted that, since the beginning of 2018, the Islamic State’s media system has begun to recover slightly. It has started building new Web sites, producing high-quality media materials and establishing propaganda institutions, especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Despite this, however, there is a deep gap between the current media system and the one that operated between 2014-2015. Al-Azhar pointed out some of the official and semi-official platforms currently used by the IS:
In conclusion, Al-Azhar is largely correct in its assessment. Indeed, the Islamic State’s well-oiled propaganda machine is greatly weakened, as demonstrated by the considerable decline in the quantity and quality of its publications. Nevertheless, the organization is working hard to spread its doctrine through social networks, especially Telegram and Google+. In fact, it is possible to identify dozens of IS-supporting groups on social networks that help disseminate the organization's official propaganda material, encourage Muslims to join the distribution efforts, and disseminate propaganda materials themselves that match the organization's tone. It seems that the battle against the Islamic State’s psychological warfare on social networks is still far from over as long as social networks are lacking an appropriate tool to automatically remove inciting content.
See:Michael Barak, “The Al-Azhar Institute – A Key Player in Shaping the Religious and Political Discourse in Egypt”, ICT. 28.3.2016. https://www.ict.org.il/Article/1647/The-Al-Azhar-Institute#gsc.tab=0