Deception in Online Terrorist Propaganda: A Study of ISIS and Boko Haram

Deception in Online Terrorist Propaganda: A Study of ISIS and Boko Haram

Innocent E. Chiluwa (Covenant University, Nigeria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8535-0.ch028

Abstract

This chapter examines the meaning, types, and practice of propaganda by two prominent terrorist groups, namely ISIS and Boko Haram, and how deception and deceptive communication form aspects of their propagandist tools. The chapter begins with the conceptual description and discussion of deception and propaganda and situate them in the research literature. It goes further to examine the impact of the internet in the enhancement and spread of terrorist propaganda by ISIS and Boko Haram; the reasons and various forms of propaganda and radicalization online are also examined. Some specific samples of terrorist propaganda by the two terrorist organizations are qualitatively analyzed using discourse analytical methodology. Studies in counter-propaganda appears to be the future research direction; although it has been argued that aggressive counter-narratives may be counterproductive, grievances expressed in terrorist propaganda should be addressed.
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Propaganda In Online Terrorism Discourse

The United States military defines propaganda as “any form of communication in support of national objectives designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of any group in order to benefit the sponsor, either directly or indirectly” (See Lieberman 2017, p.95). The character of propaganda is made clearer in some other definitions such as the definition by the Oxford Living English Dictionary, which defines propaganda as “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.” The Cambridge English Dictionary also defines propaganda as “information, ideas, opinions or images often only giving one part of an argument, that are broadcast, published or in some other way spread with the intention of influencing people’s opinions.” A definition by the Encyclopedia Britannica captures the fact that propagandist information is often not “objective and is used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis or perception, or using loaded language to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information that is presented.” And much of what is disseminated as propaganda is “information – facts, arguments, rumours, half-truths or lies…” presented not only as words (or texts) but also may be in the form of gestures, banners, monuments, music, clothing, insignia, hairstyles, designs on coins and postage stamps etc.”1

Lieberman (2017) identifies and characterizes different forms of propaganda namely (1) white propaganda – propaganda that identifies the source of the message sent to a particular target (2) black propaganda – propaganda that comes from an unknown source often containing fabrications and lies (3) Gray propaganda – containing neither completely true nor completely false information and does not identify its source. ISIS generally practices black propaganda associated with unreliable information and half-truths. An example is their negotiations with Jordan for the release of the captured pilot, Muath Safi Yousef al-Kasasbeh in exchange for the release of captives in Jordanian jails in 2015. ISIS released a video showing al-Kasasbeh’s death by burning on 3 February. However, the Jordanian government’s investigation showed that the pilot was actually killed on 3 January, 2015. If that was true, it would confirm that ISIS never intended to exchange him for prisoners. But their propaganda succeeded because the publicity around the graphic online video of their victim’s execution resulted in global media coverage of the event (Ali, 2015).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Violence: Physical action or words intended to hurt or cause harm, damage of kill someone or something.

Deception: The act of deceiving someone, through hiding the truth or tricking them for personal advantage.

Terrorism: The use of violence, threat or intimidation to achieve political aims.

Boko Haram: Boko Haram is an Islamist terrorist group in Nigeria with links to Al-Qaeda and ISIS. The group is engaged in a jihadist war for an independent Islamic state in northeast of Nigeria. It was founded in 2009 by the late Muhammad Yusuf and now led by Ibrahim Shekau. Boko Haram is among the most brutal terrorist groups in the world. Between 2006 and 2016 their attacks are said to cause over 16,000 deaths in Nigeria and West Africa.

ISIS: “ISIS” is an acronym for “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” a global Jihadist organization established in 2004 in Iraq and declared itself as a Caliphate with specific interpretation of sharia laws that is brutal and with less regard to human life. ISIS also known “Daesh” controls certain regions of Iraq and Syria. The group was founded by the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as breakaway from Al Qaeda.

Radicalization: Action or process of schooling someone to adopting a radical position on political or social issue. A radicalized person usually progresses from a passive believer to extremism, sometimes by enlisting as a jihadist soldier or fighting as a “lone wolf” where they live.

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