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Isis has been trolled with mountains of porn - and it's been far more effective than imams telling young Muslims off

Isis is ‘cool’ to a lot of vulnerable young people. A Twitter account called 'Think again turn away' wasn't really going to cut it

Joshua Stewart
Wednesday 08 June 2016 15:52 BST
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Isis has published propaganda images claiming to show militants in Bangladesh, which it calls its 'Bengal' province
Isis has published propaganda images claiming to show militants in Bangladesh, which it calls its 'Bengal' province (Dabiq)

So, imagine you’re an Isis fanboy. You’re sat in some hell hole in Raqqa, with the shells raining down on you and you log into your Twitter to carry on trying to lure more vulnerable young people to come and join you, in said hell hole. Your eyes brighten – 1000 new followers! Look at me go! But then you look again. Something’s wrong. Your eyes squint. You realise, to your horror, that your page has been populated by porn – specifically, dick pics.

Yesterday, key Isis propaganda outlets were trolled, hacked and spammed by a mountain of porn. Isis projects itself as a slick, brutal and professional organisation, and one which is also violently homophobic and puritanical. To be on the receiving end of such a hilarious and comedic messaging campaign is something which they are bamboozled by. How do they respond? They can put up with having their accounts closed, they can put up with some of the ineffectual counter-narratives and messages directed at them, as can those considering joining. But comedy, peer-to-peer trolling and unleashing the bizarre worlds of 4Chan and Anonymous onto them? No chance.

Don’t get me wrong, Isis isn’t going to be toppled because of a bit of porn. But in an age of weaponised information, 24 hour news cycles and the peculiar online idiosyncrasies which often are only understood by the digital-savvy young audiences that Isis hopes to reach, we have to ask ourselves – is the sending of porn or more formally ‘Denigration Messaging’ something more strategically important than a bit of internet tomfoolery?

Isis’ usage of multiple narratives on social media has proven incredibly effective in luring young people to fight for them. Their ideas of camaraderie, religiosity, duty and, quite crucially, empowerment through a kind of ‘thug life’/Kalashnikov existence have been very powerful. Counter-messaging in recent years has failed to penetrate through to this crucial audience. The US DoS had a Twitter account called ‘Think again turn away’ (it didn’t work), and a few imams have waded in to tell Muslim kids not to be swayed by Islamism. It’s boring, slow and it fails to resonate with its target audience.

Counter-messaging has to de-energise and suck the appeal out of extremist groups. Isis is ‘cool’ to a lot of vulnerable young people. We could argue that porn and sexualised comedy is a way of reducing that appeal, of making that vulnerable person do a double take and think, Wow, here are legions of people like me ripping on these idiots – do I really want to be one of them?

Isis - awards ceremony for Quran memorization

Violence will always be attractive to some young people, and attempting to block it through counter-messaging which talks about the ‘universality of human rights’ or parentally insist that ‘Isis are lying to you’ is unfortunately not effective or exciting enough on its own.

One of the key assets we used to defeat the spread of hard line communism and Soviet expansionism was counter-culture. Flower power, rock music and western art was used to destroy communist sympathies. People were engaged in a highly exciting, provocative and sexualised medium that rejected dictatorial control and imperialism. It worked.

Again, porn may not be the answer - in fact, it isn’t (in isolation), but in a full spectrum counter terrorism communications response, we need to consider the real digital world in which we live and use it – even if that means dick pics. Isis’ messaging has to be defeated somehow, and mockery is a better too than any of us have given it credit for. More porn, please.

Joshua Stewart is the Strategic Communications Officer at the Quilliam Foundation

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