NATO study shows weakening of Daesh propaganda machine
In 2014, the Islamic State in Iraq merged into al-Nusra Front and formed Daesh. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was selected to be the caliph of the new organization.
In the summer of 2014, Daesh declared the formation of its caliphate on the territories it captured in Iraq and Syria. The new caliphate was larger in size than the UK.
Daesh depended on a huge media machine and several media organizations in driving his message home and instilling fear in the hearts of the Iraqis and the Syrians. Nevertheless, the same media machine started to show signs of weakness with Daesh losing its caliphate in 2019.
The Strategic Communications Center of Excellence, which is affiliated to NATO, has recently released a new study on the propaganda machine of Daesh between 2015 and 2019.
The study says that the propaganda published by Daesh dropped by 86% between 2015 and 2019.
In the summer of 2015, the study says, Daesh published an average of 30 items of propaganda per day, but in the summer of 2019, only four items were published by the organization per day.
During the month of Shawwal 1436 (17 July to 15 August 2015), Daesh’s propaganda output was dominated by photo-essays— mono-thematic sets of still images compiled by its provincial media offices.
These made up 78% of the archive. Written materials comprised eleven per cent—anything from Bayan news readouts and current affairs articles to pieces from magazines such as Dar al-Islam and Konstantiniyye.
A further seven per cent was devoted to video propaganda, with the remaining four per cent comprising audio materials—primarily radio-broadcast news bulletins and anashid.
Four years later, the situation is very different. Photo-essays make up just 15% of the archive and written materials now comprise the largest proportion at 55%. There were just nine videos (eight per cent) and 29 audio news bulletins (22%). In other words, not only was there a much smaller output, there was far less variety, too.
Two factors are likely to have influenced this decline. The first is that by 2019 Daesh no longer enjoyed the advantages it had when it started its propaganda production.
In 2015 the group was in a much better position to produce, edit, and distribute propaganda; it controlled a number of major cities in Syria and Iraq and enjoyed a steady intake of new human capital.
Moreover, due to its highly centralized, innovation-privileging media infrastructure, its communications teams were able to benefit from economies of scale, sharing everything from skills and expertise to technologies and techniques.
In this situation Daesh could professionalize, even industrialize, its outreach operations, which fostered the emergence of a systematic communications architecture characterized by ambition, innovation, and productivity.