Terrorist groups like ISIS are embracing a bold new weapon that has the power to produce greater carnage and influence than traditional guns and bombs. Extremists are now sharing their messages of hate and violence by taking advantage of our increasingly interconnected world. By all accounts, it's working. Jihadist propaganda is more visible than ever before - on the internet, in the news, and through social media - and ordinary civilians from across the globe are being lured and recruited into these organizations in record numbers. The disturbing new documentary Cyberjihad, produced by the acclaimed Dutch television series Backlight from VPRO, sheds light on how this has been possible, and what's being done to stop it.
The film relies on the expertise of reporters and counter-terrorism experts who have spent considerable time exploring the organization's mastery and manipulation of media in all its forms. Tellingly, ISIS considers the media component of their operation to be of equal or greater importance to the acts of terror themselves. Take, for instance, their preparations for videotaped beheadings. The film tells us that prior to the actual violent event, each camera angle and bit of staging are painstakingly rehearsed to ensure maximum impact and horror.
Not all of their media efforts are as unremittingly graphic and nightmarish as this one. Others utilize insidious messages of false hope to reach their intended audience. Through polished production values and gung-ho theatrics, the organization's recruitment videos attempt to appeal to the disenfranchised throughout the civilized world, and promise a more fulfilling life of purpose and sacrifice.
The barrage of terrorist propaganda doesn't end there. Following a high-profile event, such as the recent horrific attacks in both Paris and Brussels, the organization will broadcast a series of vignettes designed to mimic that of traditional news outlets. Many unsuspecting users may be fooled by the professional appearance of these "breaking news" segments until their perverse points of view become apparent. In an effort to allure the interest of younger generations, ISIS troops film their combat exploits from the perspective of a first-person shooter game. The organization even employs recruits whose sole duty is to spread word of their mission through social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook.
Cyberjihad explores a chilling new venue in the evolving war on terror, and it's a cyber-battle that may prove impossible to win.