Should ISIS Be Censored?

by Dish Staff

E.W. argues against Twitter and YouTube’s decisions to scrub the video of James Foley’s murder:

Censorship proponents are of the mind that the ISIS video constitutes propaganda and that its dissemination furthers ISIS’s aims. It is true that extremist groups have been known to use social media as a means to circumvent the checks media organisations employ to stop the spread of propaganda. But the video isn’t only propaganda. And since when has that label been sufficient grounds for censorship anyway?  The amount of online content that could be wiped from social media if this reasoning was applied uniformly would be staggering. …

Twitter is not television. No one is being forced to view the footage. Evening news shows can decline to show the video because not all their viewers might be comfortable seeing it. But people have to be able to access it on their own if they wish. It’s completely understandable that family members don’t want footage of a loved one’s death to spread, but it’s not clear that that’s their decision to make.

Earlier this week, J.M. Berger noted that support for ISIS on Twitter had been falling since the revelation that the group had massacred some 700 people in the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor:

Negative hashtag references to the Islamic State, using the derogatory Arabic acronym Daash, soared from Aug. 8 to Aug. 18, increasing by 44 percent. When hashtags referring to Daash along with a reference to the massacre specifically were included in the count, the total soared by 85 percent. The surge in negative sentiment toward IS took place concurrently with airstrikes on the self-proclaimed caliphate by both the United States and the Assad regime and during the period during which Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stepped down, which IS has claimed as a victory. In other words, IS not only managed to completely erase all the goodwill it might have accrued from battling jihadists’ hated enemies, but it added considerable negatives on top of that.

Meanwhile, Keating takes a closer look at ISIS’s video capabilities:

The availability of laptops, editing software, and HD cameras has made it much easier to produce sophisticated-looking videos. The Internet has also made it simple for terror groups to promote them. But as Berger notes, these propaganda videos aren’t new. Rather, they’re part of a tradition of jihadi filmmaking dating back at least to Afghanistan in the 1980s and Bosnia in the 1990s. “Typically productions that jihadi organizations would put out would be, if not quite cutting edge, pretty close to the standards of the day with professional cameras and professional editing. Jihadi media has progressed at the same speed as the rest of the media,” he says. (This has been true of their print efforts as well.) …

But Jarret Brachman, who consults on international terrorism for the U.S. government and is author of the book Global Jihadism: Theory and Practice, says the content of ISIS’s videos is less important than its ability to promote them. “What I think really matters is the informal use of social media—Instagram, Twitter, and Ask.fm being chief among them—not only by IS’ formal media outlets but by this global following of informal advocates, surrogates, and cheerleaders,” he told me via e-mail.

Update from a reader:

As someone who knew Jim in grad school, I say yes, the video—a snuff film—should be censored. I am devastated. I cannot unsee stills of his final moments. Him on his knees in orange, his masked executioner in black, against a barren landscape. It was impossible to be online Tuesday without seeing those images. I recognized Jim instantly, before the media had confirmed that it was him. It’s one thing to see a person, any person, in this situation and think, Oh my god, that’s so horrible. It’s another thing to know that person and really feel the horror.