Beating ISIS in the Digital Space: Focus Testing ISIS Defector Counter-Narrative Videos with American College Students
Keywords: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.
Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. (2005). The influence of attitudes on behavior. The
handbook of attitudes, 173-221. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Icek_Ajzen/publication/264000974_The_Influence_of_Attitudes_on_Behavior/links/00b7d53c7dea81c846000000.pdf
Amur, A. (July, 2010). A Course in the art of recruiting. Retrieved from
Berger, J. M., & Morgan, J. (2015). The ISIS Twitter Census. Defining and
describing the population of ISIS supporters on Twitter. Retrieved from Washington, Brookings Institution. Retrieved from http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2015/03/isis-twitter-census-berger-morgan/isis_twitter_census_berger_morgan.pdf
Berger, J. M., & Perez, H. (2016). The Islamic State’s Diminishing Returns on
Twitter: How suspensions are limiting the social networks of English-speaking ISIS supporters. Retrieved from https://cchs.gwu.edu/sites/cchs.gwu.edu/files/downloads/Berger_Occasional%20Paper.pdf
Bertram, L. (2016). Terrorism, the internet and the social media advantage:
Exploring how terrorist organizations exploit aspects of the internet, social
media and how these same platforms could be used to counter-violent extremism. Journal for Deradicalization, 7. Retrieved from http://journals.sfu.ca/jd/index.php/jd/article/view/63/0
Bloom, M. (2011). Women and terrorism: Bombshell. Philadelphia: University of
Braddock, K., & Dillard, J. P. (2016). Meta-analytic evidence for the persuasive
effect of narratives on beliefs, attitudes, intentions, and behaviors.
Communication Monographs, 1-24. doi:10.1080/03637751.2015.1128555
Braddock, K., & Horgan, J. (2015). Towards a guide for constructing and
disseminating counter-narratives to reduce support for terrorism. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 39(5), 381-404. doi:10.1080/1057610X.2015.1116277
Callimachi, R. (June 27, 2015). ISIS and the lonely young American. New York
Times. Retreived from
Comey, J. (July 8, 2015). Counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and the
challenges of going dark. FBI: Statement before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Retrieved from
Conway, M. (2016). Determining the Role of the Internet in Violent Extremism
and Terrorism: Six Suggestions for Progressing Research. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 00-00. doi:10.1080/1057610X.2016.1157408
Davies, G., Neudecker, C., Ouellet, M., Bouchard, M., & Ducol, B. (2016).
Toward a Framework Understading of Online Programs for Countering Violent Extremism. JD Journal for Deradicalization, 6(Spring 2016), 51-86.
Driscoll, M. (March 7, 2015). My ISIS boyfriend: A reporter's undercover life with
a terrorist. New York Post. Retrieved from
Frenett, R. (November 16-17, 2016). Creative space of media. Towards more
constructive approaches to countering violent extremism: Lessons, evidence, and Innovation from Europe and the WANA Region. Wana Institute, Jordan, Amman.
Frenett, R., & Dow, M. (2015). One to one online interventions: A pilot CVE
methodology. Institute for Strategic Dialogue. Retrieved from http://www.strategicdialogue.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/One2One_Web_v9.pdf
George Washington Extremism Tracker. (December, 2016). The Islamic State in
America. The George Washington University: Program on Extremism.
Klausen, J. (2015). Tweeting the Jihad: Social Media Networks of Western
Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 1-22.
Schweitzer, Y. (Ed.) (2006). Female suicide bombers: Dying for equality? The Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, 84. Retrieved from
Speckhard, A., & Akhmedova, K. (2006). Black widows: The Chechen female suicide terrorists. In Y. Schweitzer (Ed.), Female Suicide Terrorists. Tel Aviv: Jaffe Center Publication.
Speckhard, A., & Akhmedova, K. (2008). Black widows and beyond: Understanding the motivations and life trajectories of Chechen female terrorists. In C. Ness (Ed.), Female Terrorism and Militancy: Agency, Utility and Organization: Agency, Utility and Organization Routledge.
Speckhard, A. (2008). The emergence of female suicide terrorists. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 31, 1-29.
Speckhard, A. (2009). Female suicide bombers in Iraq. Democracy and Security, 5(1), 19-50.
Speckhard, A. (2012). Talking to terrorists: Understanding the psycho-social motivations of militant jihadi terrorists, mass hostage takers, suicide bombers and "martyrs". McLean, VA: Advances Press.
Speckhard, A. (2015). Bride of ISIS: One young woman's journey into homegrown terrorism. McLean, VA: Advances Press, LLC.
Speckhard, A. (May 4, 2015). Female terrorists in ISIS, al Qaeda and 21rst century terrorism. Trends Research. Retrieved from
Speckhard, A. (October 20, 2015). The hypnotic power of ISIS imagery in recruiting Western youth. International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism: Research Report. Retrieved from http://www.icsve.org/brief-reports/the-hypnotic-power-of-isis-imagery-in-recruiting-western-youth-2/
Speckhard, A. (Dec/January 2016). Brides of ISIS: The internet seduction of Western females into ISIS. Homeland Security Today, 13(1), 38-40. Retrieved from
Speckhard, A. (February 25, 2016). The lethal cocktail of terrorism: the four
necessary ingredients that go into making a terrorist & fifty individual vulnerabilities/motivations that may also play a role. International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism: Brief Report. Retrieved from http://www.icsve.org/brief-reports/the-lethal-cocktail-of-terrorism/
Speckhard, A. (July 6, 2016). How do we defeat ISIS: Less bombs, more
social. The Hill. Retrieved from
Speckhard, A. (July 6, 2016). The best weapon to defeat ISIS:
Use testimonials from disillusioned recruits who've defected against
them. New York Daily News. Retrieved from
Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. (December 2015). Eyewitness accounts from recent defectors from Islamic State: Why they joined, what they saw, why they quit. Perspectives on Terrorism, 9(6), 95-118. Retrieved from
Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. (December 22, 2015). Discrediting ISIS from the inside. International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism: Brief Report. Retrieved from
Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. (2016). ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate: Advances Press, LLC.
Storey, K. (April 22, 2016). The American Women of ISIS: Who they are, why
they’re joining, and what life is like once they get there. Marie Claire
Magazine. Retrieved from
Vidino, L., & Hughes, S. (December, 2015). ISIS in America: From retweets to
Raqqa. The George Washington University: Program on Extremism. Retrieved from
Von Behr, I., Reding, A., Edwards, C., & Gribbon, L. (2013). Radicalisation in the
digital era. The use of the internet in 15 cases of terrorism and extremism. Brussels: RAND Europe. Retrieved from http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR400/RR453/RAND_RR453.pdf
Whiteside, C. (2016). Lighting the Path: the Evolution of the Islamic State Media
Enterprise (2003-2016). Retrieved from The Hague:https://icct.nl/publication/lighting-the-path-the-evolution-of-the-islamic-state-media-enterprise-2003-2016/
Winter, C. (2015). Documenting the virtual ‘Caliphate’. Quilliam Foundation, 5-7.
The JD Journal for Deradicalization uses a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND) Licence. You are free to share - copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format under the following conditions:
Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, andindicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
NonCommercial — You may not use the material for commercial purposes.
NoDerivatives — If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you may not distribute the modified material.