Want to Help Defuse ISIS' Propaganda? See How It Works from the Inside.

Propaganda is nothing new — it's as old as politics itself — but adding the connective power of the Internet to the equation reveals an entirely new level of media that ISIS is all too happy to exploit.

Salman Rushdie: Well aside from the obvious thoughts of ISIS, which is horror and disgust, I think we have to look at the fact that they’re so unusually good at using the media. That’s a great deal of their unique power is the way in which they can create themselves as the bogeyman, you know, and that they do it on purpose. It’s very — I mean even the chosen methods of execution, you know, are done for maximum shock horror value. You know you want to kill people; you can do it very straightforwardly. You don’t have to go through this gruesome ritual that they prefer. And the purpose of the gruesome ritual is to be scary and it works very well. They [are] also, it seems to be, extremely good at the recruitment video — where they use all these techniques including music so in order to make themselves a very attractive proposition, it seems, to some kinds of young men and women. I mean the thing that mystifies me is the women, you know. I can understand that a certain kind of disenfranchised, alienated young man might think that it was heroic or glamorous to go off and fight this secret war — or not secret war; this war in which you are a secret fighter.

I find it very difficult to understand the phenomenon of women defecting to enter the ISIS zone because women are treated so shockingly badly there, you know. And that again goes to show the enormous effectiveness of their propaganda in overcoming the obvious facts about how women are treated, which is basically as slaves. They’re certainly not given any kind of real dignity, you know. And yet the propaganda is so effective that young women from all over the world seem interested to go. So I think you have to see it as, just in media terms, as an enormously effective group. Much, much more so than any radical extremist group, I mean, in history. If you look back a bit and you look at things like the Baader Meinhof Group or, you know, The Weather Underground or whatever. They were lousy at communicating. Absolutely shockingly bad. And they certainly were not either able or interested to communicate their ideas in a way that were appealing, that was appealing to anybody. Of course they didn’t have these — the technology that is now available, but what is interesting is not just that ISIS is able to communicate so efficiently, but that they can actually make themselves attractive. Given all the evidence piling up every day of their extreme unattractiveness to be able to overcome that by propaganda is quite an achievement.

The recent attacks in Paris shine a light on the world's current biggest boogeyman: ISIS. "Boogeyman" is a role that delights ISIS leadership, who are always intent on inflating their profile on the international stage. In fact, the urge to aggrandize the group only plays into its hand.


According to author Salman Rushdie, ISIS has proven itself to be extremely savvy at media creation and dissemination. It uses social media sites to assist with recruiting and to boost propaganda. Its violent hype videos are always shot in a way that maximizes horror, especially the grisly beheading ones from last year. The group's goal is simple: Intimidate and scare as many Westerners as possible. Is it working?

Rushdie's new book is titled Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights.

How New York's largest hospital system is predicting COVID-19 spikes

Northwell Health is using insights from website traffic to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations two weeks in the future.

Credit: Getty Images
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • The machine-learning algorithm works by analyzing the online behavior of visitors to the Northwell Health website and comparing that data to future COVID-19 hospitalizations.
  • The tool, which uses anonymized data, has so far predicted hospitalizations with an accuracy rate of 80 percent.
  • Machine-learning tools are helping health-care professionals worldwide better constrain and treat COVID-19.
Keep reading Show less

Dark matter axions possibly found near Magnificent 7 neutron stars

A new study proposes mysterious axions may be found in X-rays coming from a cluster of neutron stars.

Credit: D. Ducros; ESA/XMM-Newton, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
Surprising Science
  • A study led by Berkeley Lab suggests axions may be present near neutron stars known as the Magnificent Seven.
  • The axions, theorized fundamental particles, could be found in the high-energy X-rays emitted from the stars.
  • Axions have yet to be observed directly and may be responsible for the elusive dark matter.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Put on a happy face? “Deep acting” associated with improved work life

    New research suggests you can't fake your emotional state to improve your work life — you have to feel it.

    Credit: Columbia Pictures
    Personal Growth
  • Deep acting is the work strategy of regulating your emotions to match a desired state.
  • New research suggests that deep acting reduces fatigue, improves trust, and advances goal progress over other regulation strategies.
  • Further research suggests learning to attune our emotions for deep acting is a beneficial work-life strategy.
  • Keep reading Show less

    3,000-pound Triceratops skull unearthed in South Dakota

    "You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.

    Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College
    Surprising Science
    • The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
    • It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
    • Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
    Keep reading Show less

    World's oldest work of art found in a hidden Indonesian valley

    Archaeologists discover a cave painting of a wild pig that is now the world's oldest dated work of representational art.

    Credit: Maxime Aubert
    Surprising Science
    • Archaeologists find a cave painting of a wild pig that is at least 45,500 years old.
    • The painting is the earliest known work of representational art.
    • The discovery was made in a remote valley on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
    Keep reading Show less
    Quantcast