The Islamic State: They’re just like us. That’s the message ISIS tries to convey to frustrated Muslim youth around the world. While footage of the terror group’s brutal, live-action murders and rampages has gripped the West and Muslim worlds alike, it’s just the tip of a far more sophisticated recruitment strategy, one that rivals social-media campaigns by the most savvy of advertising agencies.
The key? ISIS has used social media to create a virtual community, flexible enough to let young people flesh out their identities. When it comes to radicalization, Twitter and YouTube have assumed the role once reserved for the charismatic religious leader, inspiring recruits to leave behind their normal existences and join a holy war. Indeed, on social media, ISIS is about engaging youth in their own cultural language.
And so, much like any organization trying to build a brand and engage a following, the terror group grants its fighters time between battles to tweet, blog, answer questions on Ask.fm and upload photos to Instagram — about not just war exploits but also life away from the battlefield. Pictures on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr show ISIS followers eating pizza, browsing through farmers markets, enjoying movie nights, riding Ferris wheels and playing video games. These images describe the bond of brotherhood, the fulfillment of identity and the purpose of jihad. Their lives reflect a community accepting only the Shariah laws, woven as a story to those seeking purpose and helping illustrate to would-be followers that daily life as an ISIS member isn’t all that different from their own. All this, too, provides living proof of the existence of an Islamic State.