ISIL has virtually given up on promoting the its self-styled caliphate through social media as it focuses on efforts to recruit fighters following major losses on the battlefield, according to a new report.
The output of the group’s propaganda machine was cut by nearly two-thirds during 2017 as its leaders were killed and it suffered major territorial losses in Iraq and Syria, according to analysts IHS Markit.
The most marked drop was in photographs of its military operations and particularly of its efforts at state-building that had been designed to attract civilian families to move to the region.
Its once-slick media operation that saw crews joining fighters on the frontline to make professionally-produced video packages has also been replaced by shaky footage filmed by the fighters themselves, according to the analysis.
The media efforts – largely through the encrypted messaging system Telegram – reflect a shift to what is considered a simpler and more effective propaganda effort focused on claiming responsibility for attacks. They have the advantage of being reported in the international media, said Columb Strack, IHS principal analyst for the Middle East.
“There’s not much of the caliphate left to write about. “They are shifting in terms of the people they are trying to reach,” he said.
Attracting civilians to the area “is no longer a priority and they are trying to attract fighters and defectors from other groups”.
Propaganda images featuring daily life in the so-called caliphate along with ISIL food distribution and infrastructure building efforts fell from 93 of 922 pictures in January 2017 to just three of 249 in December.
“The ISIL narrative no longer features state building and now focuses almost exclusively on the concept of perpetual war against its enemies,” the report said.
The vast majority of pictures now released by ISIL show the group in action, receiving training, planning operations and punishing those it accuses of cooperating with its enemies, said the group.
The territory it holds has been cut by 90 per cent in the 12 months to 2018, according to the IHS report. The United States said last month that ISIL was returning to its roots as an insurgent force with fewer than 3,000 active fighters remaining in Iraq and Syria.
Despite no longer posing a “military threat”, Washington said on Wednesday that it was concerned that Turkey’s military offensive in the Syrian-Kurdish enclave could distract from the fight against ISIL and could be exploited by extremists to create safe havens.
Despite the collapse of the caliphate, the media operations continue to be coordinated out of Syria and Iraq, according to the IHS Report. ISIL’s media operations were centred in the north Syrian city of Raqqa, its onetime capital, and the city’s fall in October badly disrupted the group’s efforts at self-promotion, officials said. The military campaign against ISIL has run alongside counter-propaganda efforts by the authorities in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The study was based on material spread by two Telegram channels, the Amaq News Agency, which publishes claims of responsibility for attacks carried out by ISIL, and Nashir, which aggregates propaganda produced by ISIL groups.
The HIS findings echo previous studies that have shown a sharp decline in the group’s global influence. A study by the US military’s West Point academy showed that its propaganda output had fallen from a high of 761 releases in August to 194 a year later.