Sacred Violence and Social Media Platforms

Published: March 15, 2015

99-front-204x300Social media outlets have provided a further tool for violent groups to intensify the culture of extremism and recruit new followers. Radical religious movements have expanded into “new media,” and by consequence, governments in both the West and the Arab world face a new warfront in the battle of ideas to contain their influence in cyberspace. The success of Da’ish (ISIS) in using social media — particularly in the realm of recruitment — presents a prime example.

The social media war against terrorism should not be underestimated. In a region infested with political and sectarian tensions, raising awareness about its dangers is vital in combatting the influence of groups like Da’esh, which seek to exploits the divisions of the Middle East in its dirty game for regional dominance. 

The first step to combat extremist media online is to understand the phenomenon. Al-Mesbar’s 99th monthly book, Holy War and Social Media Platforms, aims to support this goal for Arab audiences. Its chapters explores how ISIS and other terror groups have managed to utilize social media and other cyber tools. Our aim is to help foster the development of a media strategy for countering violent extremism which would be even more creative and nimble as the activity of the terrorists themselves.

The media war is complicated for a variety of reasons, one being the differing goals and strengths of the terrorists on the one hand and their opponents — the civilized world — on the other. Extremists, at this stage, need only a few thousands among hundreds of millions of Muslims to follow them in order to advance their immediate objectives. By contrast, the many who oppose them seek to promote moderation and tolerance not only to those most vulnerable to join the ranks of ISIS, but also to the Muslim world as a whole. Extremists exploit the gamut of social and other media platforms online: Recently, ISIS  released a mobile phone applications, social media as well as full-length movies, promoting both via social media as a tool of self-promotion and to influence public opinion. These tools also serve to harass and demoralize their opponents. In all these pursuits, one might say that social media serves as the “spearhead,” in that it drives the pursuit of access, engagement, and persuasion. And in sum, the group’s astounding success reflects a bitter irony: The culture and tools of globalization, which were once expected to temper parochialism and radicalism across the world. Yet among the greatest beneficiaries have been the very sort of groups that had been expected to fade away.

A review of Western scholarship and monographs on the ISIS social media phenomenon indicates that many experts were taken by surprise at the group’s acumen online.

Al Mesbar would like to thank all the experts who contributed to the book — and in particular, our colleagues Ibrahim Al-Nimr and Abdulla Hamidaddeen for coordinating it.