Censoring Extremism: Influence of Online Restriction on Official Media Products of ISIS

Recognizing that militant, non-state groups utilize social media and online platforms to reach members, sympathizers, and potential recruits, state agencies and social media corporations now increasingly regulate access to accounts affiliated with such groups. Scholars examining deplatforming efforts have, to date, focused on the extent of audience loss after account restrictions and the identification of strategies for regrouping online followers on the same or different platforms over time. Left unexplored is if and how militant non-state groups adapt their official messaging strategies in response to platform restrictions despite continuing online access to them. To begin to fill that gap, this study compares ISIS’s 550 images displayed in the group’s official newsletter al-Naba 6 months before and after Europol’s November 2019 take-down of terrorist affiliated accounts, groups, channels, and bots on Telegram. It conducts a content analysis of images related to militaries and their outcomes, non-military activities and their outcomes, and presentational forms. The findings demonstrate that ISIS visually emphasizes its standard priming approach but shifts its agenda-setting strategy. While retaining some of its standard visual framing practices, the group also alters frames, particularly those related to images showing opposing militaries and military outcome.

Tags: al-Naba, Censorship, images, ISIS, Media, militants, state-building, visual communication