Down, but Not Out: An Updated Examination of the Islamic State’s Visual Propaganda

As the physical territory held by the group known as the Islamic State diminished in 2016-2017, concern
about of the status of the group’s “virtual” caliphate increased. This report focuses on one aspect
of that virtual caliphate: the production of visual propaganda by the group’s ofcial media bureaus.
Using a dataset of more than 13,000 pieces of ofcial visual propaganda distributed from January 2015
to June 2018, this report examines how the production of such pieces has changed over this timeframe
in terms of the number of pieces distributed, the geographic dynamics associated with the production
of propaganda, and the content featured in these products. Through the course of this examination,
several key findings emerge:
Ofcial visual propaganda production has decreased significantly: According to the CTC’s collection
criteria, August 2015 represented the high-water mark for the production of ofcial visual propaganda,
with 754 releases. The low-point occurred in June 2018, with 44 releases. This represents
a 94-percent decrease in visual propaganda production. It is important to note that this decrease
does not account for non-visual production such as text-only tweets.
Despite the decrease, fluctuation in visual propaganda production is likely to continue: At the
macro level, production rebounded slightly in January 2018 before falling of again. This follows a
more sustained rebound in production that occurred in late 2016. At the local media bureau level,
increases and decreases have occurred quite frequently.
Since July 2015, 100 Islamic State media operatives have been announced as being martyred:
Among many reasons for the decrease in propaganda production, one revealed by this report is
the number of media personnel who have been killed. In the first quarter of 2016 alone, 20 such
personnel were eulogized in the group’s propaganda.
Islamic State videos (excluding Amaq and Furat Media Establishment) have been increasing in
length since January 2015: In the first five months of 2015, the average length of an Islamic State
video was a little over six minutes. In the first five months of 2018, this number had increased to
approximately 16 minutes 30 seconds. This may suggest a decreased ability to create narrowly
tailored and targeted videos.
The Islamic State’s media bureaus inside of Iraq and Syria present a worrying sign for the future:
During 2016 and after the liberation of parts of Iraq from formal Islamic State control in December
2017, production of ofcial visual products from Iraqi media bureaus declined. Since that point,
however, production coming specifically from Iraq has rebounded slightly, highlighting the group’s
resilience and potential future threat in the region.
The Islamic State’s media bureaus outside of Iraq and Syria are producing more propaganda as
a proportion of the group’s overall ofcial visual output than ever before: Due to both an overall
decline in production of ofcial visual releases inside Iraq and Syria and a small increase among
some bureaus outside of Iraq and Syria, most notably the Khurasan bureau, the Islamic State’s
media bureaus outside of Iraq and Syria have surpassed 20 percent of overall ofcial visual output
in six of the last nine months. This level of non-Iraq and Syria production had not occurred once
in the preceding 32 months.
The theme of Islamic State ofcial visual releases is overwhelmingly military as opposed to non-military:
In the first quarter of 2015, 53 percent of the group’s ofcial visual releases were non-military
in theme. In this first quarter of 2018, this number had fallen to 15 percent.

Tags: ISIS, Propaganda, Social Networks, Visual