Beating ISIS in the Digital Space: Focus Testing ISIS Defector Counter-Narrative Videos with American College Students


  • Allison McDowell-Smith Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Nichols College and is a Senior Research Fellow of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE).
  • Anne Speckhard Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine, Georgetown University, and Director of ICSVE
  • Ahmet S. Yayla Adjunct Professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason University and is a Senior Research Fellow of ICSVE.


Counter-Narrative, Defectors, ICSVE, ISIS, Social Media


ISIS recruits on a 24/7 basis in over 21 languages over the Internet using videos, memes, tweets and other social media postings and swarming in on anyone that retweets, likes or endorses their materials to try to seduce them into the group.  Their unprecedented social media drive has resulted in over 30,000 foreign fighters from more than 100 countries migrating to Syria and Iraq.  ISIS recruitment in the U.S. is for the most part Internet based and has resulted in the actual and attempted recruitment of over 100 individuals residing in the U.S. with over 200 Americans traveling to Syria to join terrorist groups.  To date very little counter-narrative material exists and most of it is cognitive versus emotionally impactful.  The International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) Breaking the ISIS Brand – the ISIS Defectors Interviews Project has managed to collect 43 ISIS defector interviews and thus far produce two video clips of ISIS defectors denouncing the group which were focus tested in this research in a small normative college student sample of 75 undergraduate students.  The results demonstrate that American college students find the videos authentic, disturbing and turn them away from ISIS, fulfilling the goals that the project is aiming for in producing counter-narrative materials.


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