Research Finds Differential Emphasis in Islamic State Propaganda

VOX-Pol has released its latest report in the VOX-Pol publication series, titled A Tale Of Two Caliphates: Comparing the Islamic State’s Internal and External Messaging Priorities, co-authored by Dr. Dounia Mahlouly and Charlie Winter.

About the Report

In recent years, the media department of the self-proclaimed Islamic State has proven itself to be highly adept at strategic communication. While much research has gone into the group’s digital and online capabilities, there remains a significant gap in the knowledge regarding its in-country propaganda operations and objectives.

In recognition of this, the following research paper approaches the issue from a different angle, attempting to better understand how and why the group communicates its brand through the lens of two publications – al-Naba’, its Arabic-language newspaper, which appears to be designed primarily for offline dissemination in the caliphate itself, and Rumiyah, its foreign-language electronic magazine, which has only ever appeared online. Using content analysis to identify and compare each publication’s internal (local) and external (global) media priorities over the four-month period between September and December 2016, we develop an empirical evaluation of the group’s recent forays into targeted outreach.

Key Findings

The Islamic State’s publication priorities at the end of 2016 were largely bifurcated—its propagandists seemed to want different
responses from different audiences, and Rumiyah and al-Naba’ were particularly demonstrative of this.

  • Structurally, the publications bore only partial resemblance to each other, with Rumiyah privileging lengthier, more discursive ideological content and al-Naba’ primarily tending to preference briefer tactical news items.
  • The publications were also distinct thematically: Rumiyah’s content was significantly more abstract – that is, weighted towards complex political, social and theological issues – than that of al-Naba’, which shed much more light on present-day military matters than anything else.
  • Al-Naba’’s conception of jihad was distinctly more pragmatic than that of Rumiyah – it focused on real-world concerns rather than ideology, something that could point towards the differing motivations of the Islamic State’s in- and ex-theatre supporters.
  • There were significant geographic discrepancies between the two publications, with Rumiyah spending more time discussing events and operations external to Syria and Iraq than al-Naba’. This was most apparent in the context of the battle for Mosul, which was entirely absent from the pages of Rumiyah, and regularly front-page news in al-Naba’.
  • It appears that each publication was carefully tailored to suit its primary consumer audience – in Rumiyah’s case, this was the Islamic State’s diffuse archipelago of global supporters, and in the context of al-Naba’, this was, and continues to be, its in-country rank-and-file.

Accessing VOX-Pol Reports

All VOX-Pol reports are open-access. This report is available for download here. If you would like to receive a hardcopy of the report, please email with your request.

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