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How the media is strengthening ISIS’ cause

It’s no secret that journalism has been hugely impacted by the rise of digital media, and the rate of change in the industry was so rapid that it caught news publications by surprise. Over the course of a decade leading up to 2012, The American Society of Newspaper Editors reported a 30% drop in  full-time newsroom jobs. In 2013, hundreds of layoffs were felt at companies such as Gannet and Tribune as traditional media outlets struggled to build its online presence. In the new age of digital and social media, readers get what they want based on a pay-per-click model, where headlines that garner clicks and therefore show more ads earn money. This has changed many news outlets to target their reporting on what people want to read, when they want to read it versus a slower paced approach to journalism that focuses on uncovering stories.


Today, the media landscape is being accused of adding fuel to the fire when it comes to the threat of terrorism. The rise of ISIS has been heavily covered by the media, and arguable the extensive media coverage has aided in giving more ISIS traction. In March 2015, a list of 100 names of military personnel was released by what was thought to be ISIS and the media quickly took hold of the story making it go viral. The reality was the US authorities were doubtful the attack would ever take place and the threats were not made by the terrorists themselves, which was information lost in the reporting. Media outlets pumped out the propaganda that ISIS supporters released adding to the fear and perceived influence of ISIS.


Arguably, ISIS’s biggest strength in gaining traction and influence is its expert use of social media and modern day communication technology to spread propaganda. In 2014, ISIS placed in the top 10 Google searches in the US. ISIS is frequently trending on twitter, and uses apps like Dawn of Glad Tidings that once downloaded will automatically post ISIS content on the user’s twitter account for them. In 2015, the estimate of social media messages posted about ISIS were over 90,000 a day. ISIS is a sophisticated content machine that has learnt how to use social media, branding and western media outlets to it’s advantage. Despite it’s online social klout, the actual number of ISIS fighters is unknown, estimated anywhere between 30,000 and 200,000 with the land they occupy being mostly unpopulated.


After the Paris Attacks, President Barack Obama subtly warned the media that it was playing into the hands of ISIS by giving the group consistent coverage in the news:


‘The media needs to help in this, I just want to say. You know, during the course of this week — a very difficult week — it is understandable that this has been a primary focus. But one of the things that has to happen is how we report on this has to maintain perspective and not empower in any way these terrorist organizations or elevate them in ways that make it easier for them to recruit or make them stronger.”


Media outlets are playing catch-up in the digital age as new organizations are mastering it, leveraging free online tools and old school media to their advantage- in the case of ISIS not for the greater good. As media outlets struggle with profits and provide readers with sensationalist topics they want to keep reading about, they are in fact helping organizations like ISIS achieve their goals in gaining influence.

Paris attacks on November 2015 and Belgium attacks on March 2016 both took the media and social media by storm, but what was also highlighted was the disproportionate coverage of similar attacks in Turkey, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and several more.  

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Apr 29, 2016
Category: Thematic Issues
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