Review of “Twitter and Jihad: The Communication Strategy of ISIS” edited by Monica Maggioni and Paolo Magri

Document Type : Book review


School of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tehran, Iran


Twitter and Jihad: The Communication Strategy of ISIS edited by Monica Maggioni & Paolo Magri. Milan, Italy: ISPI, 2015. 168pp., $10 (p/b), ISBN 978-88-98014-66-8


Twitter and Jihad: The Communication Strategy of ISIS” is dedicated to being a resource for government officials, business executives, journalists, civil servants, and students. The book is the collective work of eight authors, edited by Monica Maggioni and Paolo Magri.

The authors evaluated the videos, tweets, traditional media and other viral propaganda assets of the Islamic State, and further, argue that the whole media experts are all surprised by the whole sudden advancement of the terrorist group, self-proclaimed, Islamic State, especially in case of the modern online media, alongside territorial advancements. The authors argue that traditional terrorist groups, mostly from Al- Qaeda camp, have experienced substantial transformation in case of media and propaganda after swearing allegiance with IS. The book introduces IS modern propaganda as a result of a newly born generation of terrorism, and accordingly, draw a fine line with Al-Qaeda. The Twitter and Jihad is framed based on a Discourse Analysis of IS from a communication perspective aimed at its recruitment, accordingly, the authors tried to make connections between the traditional ways of propaganda and the modern and trendy ones, benefited by IS.

The book is analytical and structured in six chapters. From the beginning, the book commences with a history of the Caliphate and then moves into the current case of the Caliphate, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and studies his centrality in whole IS system. The next two chapters consider the communication strategies of IS before and after declaring a Caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Then the authors go beyond communication styles and consider the objectives of IS propaganda, particularly in social media, focusing on IS missions in Europe. Reading the book, we face severe multiple repetitions all over the chapters, seemingly the second half of the book is a hastily detailed abstract of the first half. The last chapter, exclusively on Discourse, was better if it had been covered in the previous chapters, between the lines, as it is a complete reiteration of previous chapters. It was also benefiting if the authors had provided more content about the reason European women join IS and turn into Jihadi women; the cases studied in the book are mostly men, been overgeneralized for all Jihadists, who are mostly Italian.

This is one of the first analytical books of its kind, that particularly studied the beheading videos of the group as well as the way this group benefited from the Internet to wipe out the traces to the publisher and to harvest the most out of the least. To reword, the group is well benefited from Twitter in case of launching unofficial media via very trusted people to re-tweet the message horizontally, in which one shares the message with friends acting as the actor of propagation, unlike Al-Qaeda, which adheres to a more vertical approach of propagating messages, which only the leader shares the message. Accordingly, the book argues that the success of IS in the Internet is due to its decentralized policy of online media management, enabling the group to avoid any internet blockage, as a result of lacking any online headquarter.

The authors argue that IS looks for identity, which mostly comes from the “alienation”, means they are labeling themselves as true and legitimate the Islamic State and whoever refuses to obey is a non-believer. To reword, “alienation” in the discourse of IS defines as whoever rather than IS itself, which represents into the war against Izadis; they are unlike Christians and Jews, had experienced the most brutal insurgencies from IS. According to the book, Izadis were merely the subject of a greater project by IS to reunify the reinforcements and provide tangible justifications for the Jihadis that they are truly fighting against a “truly non- believer” without any geopolitical ration. Twitter and Jihad is a very rich book on E-Jihad which studies the internet potentials for terrorism, especially when it comes to the engineering of the deep layers of propaganda, although the first publication of the book was in 2015, and we witnessed lots of changes in the actual arena on IS propaganda after coalition strikes. Furthermore, the authors shed the light on the interaction of IS’ media and western media; the book argues that the main weight of the videos are not the ‘beheading’ but the messages the hostages recite, meaning that IS knows the media morals would not permit the scenes to be covered, but the recitations, which contain the crucial part of the whole propaganda story, and accordingly, warn the media to carefully observe the point. Besides, the authors continue with the styles of media to cover IS news; IS wants to be called “State” while the media avoid, except the independent media, where the book warns on to avoid as it provides the possibility for the group to mind- wire the audience that they are ‘truly a state’; this is the main thesis of the whole book.

Twitter and Jihad is for those who are interested in terrorism and communication in ultimate recruitment as it is one of the first books that studied the topic in case of the IS. The topic and the authoritative writing with fluent language can persuade everyone interested in terrorism studies to consider this book essential, especially in case of E-Jihad and online propaganda; the book provides a good insight from where terrorism deviated from the traditional routes to ultimately understand the subsequent changes that follow.