light saber fight

Life Imitating Art

My Take

This article was sent in by a loyal EID reader. John Cassidy at the New Yorker examines the social media strategy that ISIS has used as a core part of its operations. He concludes that their success is only possible because of the warped reality we get by learning about the world through technology-mediated communication such as social media and the cognitive short-cuts it generates. Most of us see ISIS as much worse than they really are. Their recruits see their solution as something much better than it really is. Much more than anyone seeing them in person would. Their whole operation may not be possible without this.

With the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, the neofundamentalists, or some of them, have gained a territorial foothold in eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq. But ISIS and other radical groups still rely heavily on information technology. In addition to using the Internet to recruit and to plan attacks, they know they can rely on it to amplify the immediate impact of their atrocities, especially “spectaculars” like the one carried out in Paris. That’s because the virtual community of jihadis and sympathizers that Roy identified isn’t the only one the Internet has created. As the past week and a half has made clear, there is also a global community of virtual witnesses to terrorism—a group of which we are nearly all members.

At about the same time, I heard this interview with Greg Miller at the Washington Post who had a fantastic profile of the ISIS propaganda machine. Miller concludes that the media production training that ISIS provides would rival a graduate degree at NYU (my analogy, but his message). This exponentially magnifies the effectiveness of their death cult videos and the attractiveness of their international recruiting. They choreograph their videos like a Star Wars Jedi sword fight. It looks ten times more real than reality, which is only possible when watching the video at a distance – psychological distance as well as physical distance. Anyone living in the neighborhood would know they are a brutal, ruthless, death cult. In the video, it is an artistic rendering of life that imitates art imitating life.

Both articles make lots of good points about social media, news coverage, and one of our favorite topics here at EID – self-delusion. But I will leave some of that for you to read directly. It would be a nice change of pace to read some sharp, insightful news rather than the fluff they write about.

Your Take

On one hand, I find it hard to believe that even the best film production skills can make a brutal organization like ISIS attractive to even the most susceptible among us. But it clearly is happening. Do you have any explanations for this phenomenon? It is as straightforward as social media strategy and film production skill?

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

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