Sophiko Vasadze

New Media and Terrorism 


 Supervisor:  Ekaterine  Basilaia,    July, 2017 




Terrorism is one of the most serious problems that the modern world is facing. We hear the news about terrorist attacks almost every day. According to the British Media Outlet Independent (2017) Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is the most powerful militant. According to Ben Norton (2017) the central idea in ISIS’ propaganda strategy is to make itself look like a huge, omnipresent global threat. With good marketing it has become like a brand, which is well sold on media. Graphic images and video of ISIS are circulated on ing news sites and social media feeds.

There are differences of opinions in the scholarly community about the effects of propaganda. Early scholars were optimistic that the American public could be educated to resist propaganda. After all, propaganda violates the most basic rules of fair democratic political communication.. Mass communication theory says that (Barran, Devis , 2009), Propaganda freely uses lies and deception to persuade. If people could be taught to critically evaluate propaganda messages, they could learn how to reject them as unfair and false. These experts believed that public education could save democracy. In later years, the rise of propaganda and its apparent success in persuading large masses of people, whether in the Nazi Germany or in the Soviet Union, or, in recent times, during the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, reactivated the question about the effects and results of propaganda. (Stanly J. Baran  2009)

    Chronologically, the first ISIS video was released on 19 August 2014.  It depicted the beheading of James Wright Foley, a U.S. American journalist. The video titled “A Message to America” displays both Foley and his executioner, a man named “Jihadi John.” This is James Wright Foley, an American citizen of your country,” an Islamic State militant says in the video.

ISIS's beheading videos remain some of its most viewed and shared propaganda media. The videos often show "infidels" in the deserts of Iraq or Syria with a knife to their throat. Assessment of the videos had shown that HD quality cameras are used; the good sound quality is attributed to a microphone placed on the victim to achieve maximum auditory impact. The beheading video of the American journalist James Foley, their first internet-published beheading of a foreign journalist, will remain one of the group’s most notorious propaganda pieces. It received enormous international coverage, and it was through this video that many people worldwide heard of the group for first time. James Foley was kidnapped in 2012.

The founder of ISIS Abu Musab Al Zarqawi introduced the brutal methods of mass killings and beheading to the group in early 2000. In 2004 his group beheaded 10 people and the images were made public. The beheadings were so shocking that even Al Qaeda leaders felt these actions were too violent. (Mah-Rukh Ali, 2015).

There is difference of opinion among scholars as to the role of journalists’ coverage of propaganda.

This research is important because of the growing use of social media among terrorist groups. Melbourne University's information technology senior lecturer Shanton Chang said Facebook members often left themselves exposed to being targeted by terrorists and urged against indiscriminately inviting anyone to be an online friend.

According to Evan Asano Time spent on social media  beats time spent eating and drinking, socializing, and grooming.

It differs across each platform. YouTube comes in first, consuming over 40 minutes of a person’s day. Facebook users will spend an average of 35 minutes a day, totaling 1 year and 7 months in a lifetime (Asano, 2017) .Snapchat and Instagram come in next with 25 minutes and 15 minutes spent per day, respectively. Finally, users will spend 1 minute on Twitter, spanning 18 days of usage in a lifetime.

Therefore terrorists have a good reasons to use social media as their weapon. As Telegraph report says: Extremists of all kinds are increasingly using social media to recruit, radicalize and raise funds, and Isis is one of the most adept practitioners of this approach. Social-media monitor Recorded Future found that Isis had succeeded in creating hype with a total of 700,000 accounts discussing the terrorist group. (The Telegraph, 2014)

The purpose of this research is to analyze whether ISIS is winning the war on social media and how media influences terrorism


Literature review

As Yuki Noguchi (2006) pointed out, today  90 percent of terrorist activity on the Internet takes place using social networking tools. . These forums act as a virtual firewall to help safeguard the identities of those who participate, and they offer subscribers a chance to make direct contact with terrorist representatives, to ask questions, and even to contribute and help out the cyber jihad.

Al-Qaeda, its affiliates and other terrorist organizations have moved their online presence to YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media outlets.

Weimann (2014) said, Among the groups fighting Syrian ruler Bashar El Assad, several related to terrorist groups or the global jihadi movement have turned to social media for propaganda, psychological warfare, and weapons tutorials. Abu Mohammed al-Golani, the head ofan al-Qaeda branch operating in Syria called al-Nusra Front, uses Facebook and other social media extensively.

The leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn ( 2009)  said that was should be televised because otherwise people will be disconnected from the reality. If terrorism is not televised, there will  hardly be any evidence that the world is even in at war. If people do not see evidence of war taking place, it is much easier to be in denial about it. If war was televised people might put in a lot more effort to end the war, and to help our soldiers out there.  

Fritz Hippler, head of Nazi Germany’s film propaganda division, said that the secret to effective propaganda is to  simplify a complex issue and  repeat that simplification over and over again J. Michael Sproule (1994) argues that effective propaganda is covert: it “persuades people without seeming to do so features the massive orchestration of communication”  and emphasizes “tricky language designed to discourage reflective thought”. The propagandist believes that the end justifies the means. Therefore, it is not only right but necessary that half-truths and even outright lies be used to convince people to abandon ideas that are “wrong” and to adopt those favored by the propagandist. Propagandists also rely on disinformation to discredit their opposition. They spread false information about opposition groups and their objectives. Often the source of this false information is concealed so that it can’t be traced to the propagandist (Sproule, 1994).


Qualitative research method- in-depth interview is used to gain thoughts and an insight into individual’s evaluations of the specific topic. Also it gives me respondent’s feelings and perspectives about the subject.  In social sciences in –depth interview method has its own advantages and disadvantages. As Boyce (2006)   indicates “primary advantage of in-depth interviews is that they provide much more detailed information than what is available through other data collection methods, such as surveys and also may provide more relaxed atmosphere to collect information.”

As for the disadvantages and limitations of interview method/qualitative analysis, Boyce, Neale (2006) said, that  in-depths interviews can be time intensive, preparation of questions, conducting interviews and analyzing data need too much time. As for the data, after interviewing process the data gained might not be representative, because small sample is chosen and random sampling strategy used.

With the help of the literature review and preliminary inquire into the materials pertinent to the research I composed an interview protocol with eight main questions.

Due to the For the purpose of  focus of my research focus I choose the experts in different fields and all them are relevant and competent for this topic, all of them  have  practical and theoretical experiences in the field of ?. Interviewing process for each interviewee lasted approximately 2-3 hour.

For the selection of interviewees I used judgmental sampling technique, which is also known as purposive and authoritative sampling.  This sampling design is usually used when a limited number of individuals possess the traits that are of interest to the researcher. The process involves purposely handpicking individuals from the population based on the authorities or the researcher’s knowledge and judgment, which is capable of assembling a representative sample.

The research interviewer are :


A co-founder of Coda, Ilan was a 2015 Tow-Knight Fellow at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism and a New York City-based magazine and newspaper writer. Ilan is working on his first book and was a visiting public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington DC. He was a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong and has since written for the New York Times Magazine, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Slate, and Foreign Policy among other publications. Ilan teaches writing at the Globalization and International Affairs Program at Bard College.


      Andrew North

He is  a highly experienced journalist with a background in international reporting for both broadcast and print, and extensive contacts around the world. After 20 years working for the BBC, now freelancer and writes for international publications and train journalists.

Andrew was a BBC correspondent in Iraq, Afghanistan, India and Washington. He also reported from Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Major stories  he  produced include the 1999 Kosovo war, the 9/11 attacks, the 2003 Iraq invasion, the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, for which  was nominated for the UK's premier TV reporting award. He was the lead correspondent for the BBC’s award-winning coverage of the 2014 Indian elections


Giorgi Gobronidze

Expert of International Relations, Arabist, Director at Institute for Regional Development and Cooperation. Trainer at International  Republican Institute (IRI), Lecturer at Georgian American University.

Saba Chikhladze:

Social Media Expert, Sociologist,  Social Media Manager at  Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.



Research Questions:

RQ 1: Why do terrorists use social media?

After 9/11 and the antiterrorism campaign that followed, a large number of terrorist groups moved to the internet, establishing thousands of websites that promoted their messages and activities  How has their internet popularity affected these groups’ overall popularity?

Generally there are two types of Facebook pages with terrorist content: official and unofficial ( Gabriel Wiemman, 2015). Official pages are often have statements from the specific group sponsoring the page and links to other internet forums and media. For example, the “Al-Thabaat” page appeared on Facebook on May 5, 2013 and describes itself as a “Jihadi page for the group, ‘Ansar al-Islam.’” What are tools for fighting these groups’ popularity online?

RQ2: Is ISIS winning the war on social media?

Al-Qaeda terrorists use the internet to distribute material anonymously or “meet in dark spaces.” Isis has taken a direct approach by uploading videos of attacks on towns and of men firing weapons. Which approach is more powerful and why?

Terrorism 10 year ago and today… how it has it changed?


RQ3: How has media influenced terrorism?

RQ4: How should media be taken into account when addressing ISIS issues ?

Research   Findings   


The purpose of this study is to analyze  how  ISIS perform  war  on  social media , explore and theorize  the main  characteristics of   this  topic, summarize the contemporary  tendencies in  order  to get image  how media influences terrorism

For this research , I conducted in –depth interviewees with four  interviewees , experienced journalists , an expert  and a social media  specialists who have  various  practical experience in   Journalism, social media and political

This  chapter  will  summarize  the  results  of  interviews in details and  emphasis  the main aspects and  underline  contemporary  approaches.

All interviewees of the research emphasize, that  due  the   reason  of  high quality accessibility  to  reach  wide  audience . They  named the  main characteristics of  social  media  why its desirable for  ISIS .: Its  cheap, safe, guaranteed   medium, makes it easy  to  identify special  target groups and communities.  Additionally,  Saba  Chikhadze, social media manager at   Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty  pointed out  of that  posts reporting of suspicious posts stays as the only option to avoid content shared by terrorists for the users, this job often requires lots of time.

”Can be said that nowadays social media is a link to bigger broadcasters. We can have a look to the most recent facts – terrorists spread the video clips from uncontrolled servers that visualizes sometimes even sharing  torturing of their hostages. Video is gaining popularity at once among media broadcasters and just a few minutes later the material is spread in all over the  internet.”-said Saba  Chikladze.

Interviewees expressed argued and stated  various  opinions about  ISIS groups increasing popularity . Ilan Greenberg stated, that “Internet has boosted terrorists enormously,  that the internet has created easy  ecosystem of “extremist media,” a kind of “terrorism media” that operates much like normal, traditional media. And now, fake news and disinformation amplifies the terrorism message.”- said Ilan Greenberg.

Saba Chikladze  had different assessment about growing  popularity of ISIS group,  the  stated its ongoing war between terrorists and antiterrorists groups, also among them volunteer antiterrorists and terrorists.. That’s  why , he  stated that this mentioned  group aren’t exceptionally famous in social media, overall  popularity is  increasing , because  tools  of social media is getting wider and wider.

Additionally, Giorgi Gobronidze pointed out the  contemporary  technologies  changes provides  fertile  soil for information factors for  radicalization.

Andrew  North noted the  different  angles of the issue.   Due the reason for ,  iIncreasing number of Smartphone users absolutely changed the game, he said.  Interests of Uusers  are  getting  more clear and it’s  easy for stakeholders  to  reach the concrete group with a concrete message.  “Technologies created  double  games  for  modern society , obstacles in order to avoid transferring fake information are vivid and  crucial,.” he noted.

As  part  of the  general  primary  picture  interviewees    are agreed  that with internet  technologies  makes  it easier  to spreading the  information, its  kind of characteristics concept , which  sets  up  the game  rules  for 21th  century. Based on this  picture terrorist groups used this tool effectively .

Ilan Greenberg  noted  that on the  other  hand it’s  necessary  that Facebook and other social networks can  help police with their own  networks -, setting up quick limitations and cooperate with law  enforcement officials.

According to Giorgi Gobronidze  success  in the social media sphere depends on  a success story of the organization. “An Oorganization should have the information first and then take care on spreading it and delivering its “message of power” to the audience. So, ISIS was successful on social media, before ISIS was winning in Iraq and Syria, but weaker will ISIS’s position on the ground, weaker will be ISIS’s position in internet”-said Giorgi Gobronidze.

But Saba Chikhladze  argued this  idea and noted, that  the main idea of terrorist group is to impose makes  fear and panic  into over the society . Due to In  case of high Internet penetration and frequently happened cases , concretely, terroristic attacks Isis  meet its goal.

Between  Al Qaida’s and ISIS’S group different tactics and approaches  Ilan Greenberg emphasize that , the ISIS approach is attractive to  people who  admire their brazen openness, which has the  tactical  advantage in being able to communicate  with people without having a prior arrangements .  But the underground “dark spaces”, a communicative tactic allow al-Qaeda a far  greater degree of communication , within their secret channels , which is more effective means of  nurturing a terrorism network.

Additionally, Saba Chikladze  stated , that ISIS applies some good  tactics, because they  transform  messages all this  dramaturgically.  “As if they are presented as forest fleeing people, ready for war. But many videos demonstrate that several cameras are used as well as they have a script for the scenes. Based on these, we can assume that the appealing is not an appealing, but we face a well-prepared and planned operation serving toforspreading fear spreading. First, Terrorists are threatening without making secrets and a terrorist act takes place in a few days.”- said  Saba  chikladze.

Andrew  North  stated, that  internet and  even international media  have enormous strength for  shaping information ,and  this  fact  is well-used  by  Terroristic  groups, even they  don’t  need to invent new  form to reach the targeted audience.  

Ilan Greenberg   contended  that those  process  are connected , because “Modern terrorism cannot exist without media. Terrorism requires the 24-hour news cycle, global media channels, and the universal reach of the internet to influence and inflame public opinion. Terrorism, after all, succeeds not by inflicting so many causalities that its enemy is defeated militarily. Terrorism succeeds when the public can no longer bear the pressure of violent terrorism acts. This requires the communication reach of the mass media.”- said  Ilan Greenberg.

Giorgi Gobronidze and Saba  Chikladze  shared the idea  that media and information revolution made terrorism more  dynamic , made things much easier  for various extremists and terrorists groups,  as terrorism is not only the form of political violence, but it is also psychological and information operation. Additionally   traditional media sphere  hasve wild  competition with internet media , as opponents are the users  who  hands a Smartphone and can control  the content.  They  emphasized the role of words famous broadcasters in this  process , “for example BBC, CNN, Vice News, often cover terrorist topics, vice news even had documentary “Inside ISIS”, where a journalist took a had trip on ISIS controlled territory and was accompanied by ISIS spokesperson, who actually used this platform to send a message to potentially vulnerable audience”-Said Giorgi Gobronidze


Discussion and Conclusion  

The purpose of this research is to evaluate how  ISIS perform  the war  through on  social media , explore and theorize  the main  characteristics of  this  topic, summarize the contemporary  tendencies in  order  to get the image of  how media influences terrorism.

This  study theorizes the main tools , characteristics and concepts of  social media  which makes  easy  ways for terroristic  groups for information transferring process. The research is based on preliminary selected media, politics and social media managers in depth-interviews.

Based on the main research questions were:  (1. Why do terrorists use social media?), (2. Is ISIS winning the war on social media?),   (3. How has media influenced terrorism?), (4. How should media be taken into account when addressing ISIS issues?)  

Terrorism is one of the most serious problems that the modern world is facing. We hear the news about terrorist attacks almost every day. According to the British Media Outlet independent (2017) Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is the most powerful militant groups. According to Ben Norton (2017) the central idea in ISIS’ propaganda strategy is to make itself look like a huge, omnipresent global threat. With good marketing it has become like a brand, which is well sold on media. Graphic images and video of ISIS are circulating news sites and social media feeds.

All interviewees  emphasized that in the  contemporary technologies  society social media create  easy  ways  to reach concrete audiences , even the traditional media  changed their way of communications.  Based on this concept the stakes for transferring fake, uncontrolled information is  high. Sphere The specialists suggested the  posts reporting in the only  way  to  in order  to change the global picture, more specifically   social networks  should take the responsibility and  set up  strict laws and  policies. Law  enforcement remains as  stays the only way to  avoid the increasing influence by terrorists  groups-how?


Steanly J. Baran Dennis. K Devis “Mass communication theory”

Mah-Rukh Ali. (2015). “ISIS AND PROPAGANDA: HOW ISIS EXPLOITS WOMEN” (Reuters Institute Fellowship Paper University of Oxford)

Universiteit Utrecht. (2015). “Beyond Consumption of Violence: Performativity of ISIS’ atrocities against hostages in execution videos from 2014-2015”.

Cole Robert (ed) (1998) International Encyclopedia of Propaganda London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers