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Media Warfare and the Discourse of Islamic Revival: The Case of the Islamic State (IS)

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A critical discourse approach offers insights into terrorist movements’ social media use

Social media have provided many social, religious and political movements an effective means for networking and communicating with diverse stakeholders. EU researchers examined Islamic State’s (IS) own use of online platforms to reinforce its ideologies.


MWDIR project coordinator Dr Majid KhosraviNik makes the introduction: “IS has enthusiastically embraced and capitalised on new communicative affordances of the participatory web.” Dr KhosraviNik and the project’s Marie Curie research fellow Dr Wesam Amer delved into the social media practices of IS’s members, followers and supporters. This involved examining online communicative practices and patterns of rhetorical propaganda (overlapping discourses). Communication analysis from a sociological perspective MWDIR employed social media critical discourse studies (SM-CDS). “CDS offers interpretations and explanations of the meaning-making processes by situating the content materials in both the digital media and social contexts in which they occur,” Dr KhosraviNik explains. His published book chapter ‘Social media critical discourse studies’ elaborates on the approach, which offers a sociological take on communication analysis. He notes: “By employing SM-CDS, the project has identified patterns of similarities and differences in the way IS constructs itself, its purported enemies as well as digital practices employed for propaganda and recruitment.” Data analysis revealed and explained why IS’s communicative strategies appear to resonate with an important portion of Muslim youth both in Europe and worldwide. “Examination of discursive practices showed how the discursive politics of self-representation and identity in general play a role in such a movement,” the coordinator reports. The research also analysed visual media content, utilising a visual framing model to examine visualisation and other modalities of discourse. The fundamentals of IS strategy MWDIR researchers present the ensemble of discourses that frame Islamic fundamentalism in two points. The first covers IS’s reworkings of foundational myths of traditional religious symbols to appropriate an imagined past community in a politically charged and conflict-ridden context. The second point refers to the strategic rhetorical propaganda IS employs to attract individuals from the EU, Middle East and the United States, and many other regions. “IS’s discourse pivots around combating the constructed/perceived threat to its most sacred values in the context of a confrontation with an ‘other’ in a process one could call ‘mimetic violence’,” Dr KhosraviNik sums up. Contributions and accomplishments MWDIR outcomes contribute to our understanding of how IS constructs itself on the socio-political and cultural-religious dimensions of conflict with the ‘other’. Against this background, Dr KhosraviNik and Dr Amer underline the need to consider the context of use and circularity of data. It is not coming from just one concentrated source, and there is no clear notion of what is and what can be considered IS materials, or what is coming from sympathisers or what constitutes a harmless religious opinion. Project accomplishments go beyond topic-specific research. “This project has contributed to ongoing debate on how to do CDS in social media research within a contextual approach to meaning-making,” Dr KhosraviNik expresses. It also provided the researcher with advanced analytical skills as well as competences in applying CDS in social media discourse as an emerging and essential field. “The project contributes to European excellence and European competitiveness by diminishing the fragmentation of terrorism in social media studies from linguistic, media and security dimensions,” he concludes. MWDIR brings forward new ideas and represents an important step forward in scientific knowledge regarding the social media practices of terrorist movements.


MWDIR, IS, social media, critical discourse studies, SM-CDS, terrorist movement, communication analysis, Islamic State, participatory web

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