What Happens When ISIS Becomes an Online Caliphate?
Third, the notion that effective messages must tell a story is debatable. A communication campaign that tells compelling stories requires audiences to engage in deliberative thinking that is cognitively taxing. Empirical research shows that the cognitive abilities of humans under stress is significantly diminished and this stunted ability to trigger deliberative-thinking results in a greater reliance on automatic thinking and increased susceptibility to cognitive biases. Given that perceived crisis arguably defines the psychosocial condition of those susceptible to violent-extremist propaganda, a campaign dominated by messaging that is persuasive, simple, positive and short is far more likely to resonate.
Finally, local communities are the key to eroding Islamic State efforts to set the foundations for a future resurgence. Empowering civil society with the strategic literacy to out-compete their violent-extremist adversaries in the information theater is just as—if not more—important as resources. Put simply, locals need to be given the tools to effectively communicate with their own communities. Mistakes will be made, messages may miss the mark and opportunities lost but, as Confucius says, “better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”
Haroro J. Ingram is a research fellow with the Australian National University and a research associate with the International Centre for Counterterrorism (ICCT—The Hague). His primary research project, funded by the Australian Research Council, analyzes the role of propaganda in the strategies of violent non-state political movements.