ISIS vs. the U.S. government: A war of online video propaganda

William H. Allendorfer, Susan C. Herring


The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) relies heavily on propaganda in the form of videos distributed over social media to recruit supporters and new members to its cause, including from the U.S. The U.S. government has countered with anti-ISIS propaganda videos; however, sources claim that the U.S. is losing the propaganda war. We evaluate that claim through a comparative multimodal content analysis of the ISIS video Flames of War and the videos posted in response on the U.S. Department of State’s (USDS) Think Again Turn Away YouTube channel. Our findings shed light on some of the reasons why the USDS anti-propaganda videos are less rhetorically effective than the ISIS videos, including a one-dimensional narrative, a stance that could appear inauthentic, and a lack of sensitivity to Islamic culture. In concluding, we advance recommendations that the USDS could follow to strengthen its online propaganda defense against ISIS, and extend the implications of our findings to other social media fronts where the ISIS vs. USDS propaganda war is being waged.


conflict; discourse; ISIS; ISIL; persuasion; video; Islamic State; Department of State

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