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Tuesday, July 12 • 14:46 - 16:15
Redefining Propaganda in the Internet Age: Social Media Wars between ISIS and the US

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Location: PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - LG02, 
Goldsmiths, University of London, Building 2
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  • Ebru Kayaalp, Istanbul Sehir University, Turkey 
  • Jack Jurich, Independent Researcher, USA

Easy and relatively unrestricted access to the Internet has introduced numerous transformations in the way individuals interact with each other and their environment. Prominent among these changes are those related to communication studies and its substrata of propaganda. A large number of studies, which have analyzed the online terrorist propaganda activities, discuss the issue within the framework of how the terrorists ‘use’ or ‘exploit’ new media technologies for their purposes (Cohen-Almagor, 2013; Conway, 2006; Denning, 2010; Weimann, 2004; 2006). What is strongly highlighted in these studies is the instrumental role of the Internet in facilitating the success of terrorist propaganda. In contrast to this standard view of social media and Internet as a medium of communication, we offer an alternative perspective of human and technical actors as being mutually intertwined and equally possessed of agency in the process of propagandistic communications. 

This study examines how new media has facilitated sweeping changes across the entire spectrum of propaganda, ranging from production and dissemination to reception. Drawing on Actor Network Theory, an alternative view to traditional conceptualizations of the processes involved in the making of propaganda is presented. The applicability to Internet of the traditional unidirectional model of propaganda as Sender, Message and Receiver is questioned, and juxtaposed to the nondeterministic perspective that an Actor Network model offers. The online propaganda and counterpropaganda campaigns currently being waged by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the US State Department are presented and contrasted as examples of the old and new models of propaganda. 


Drawing on works from Science and Technology Studies, especially the works of Bruno Latour (1987, 1991, 2005), the study takes into account factors such as, decentralization of sources, democratization of actors, flexibility of the network with its focus on the entire propaganda making process. In contrast to the functionalist understanding, which considers the Internet as a ‘tool’ used by human beings in disseminating the messages, it regards the Internet as an actual ‘actor’ in the design and shaping of propaganda. That is to say, it is Internet that is the main actor in transforming the nature of terrorist propaganda. 


This work-in-progress paper suggests that Internet has not only vastly increased the ease of access and extent of dissemination but more importantly, due to the inclusion of myriad actors, it has radically transformed the way propaganda is being made. Through an analysis of the social media campaigns being waged by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the US State Department, we argue that the Internet has brought about a shift in the field of propaganda.


Cohen, Almagor R. (2012). In Internet’s way: Radical, terrorist Islamists on the free highway. International Journal of Cyber Warfare and Terrorism, 2(3), 39-58.

Conway, M. (2006). Terrorist use of the Internet and fighting back. An International Journal, 19, 9-30.

Denning, D E. (2010). Terror’s web: How the Internet is transforming terrorism. In: Jewkes Y and Yar M (eds). Handbook of Internet Crime. Devon: Willan Publishing, pp: 194-213.

Latour, B. (1987). Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. Harvard University Press: Harvard.

Latour, B. (1991) Society is technology made durable: In Law J (ed). A sociology of monsters: Essays on power, technology and domination. Routledge: London.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to Actor-Network Theory. New York: Oxford University Press.

Weimann, G. (2004). www.terror.net. How modern terrorism uses the Internet. United States Institute of Peace Report, March.

Weimann, G. (2006) Virtual disputes: The use of the Internet for terrorist debates. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 29 (7): 623-639. 

Tuesday July 12, 2016 14:46 - 16:15 UTC
PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - LG02 Goldsmiths University, Building 2

Attendees (8)