Interview with Michael Krona - Understand the ISIS communication and propaganda


Elsa Drai, a french analyst in our International Center of Research and Analysis (Notre Centre de recherche), realize and interview of Michael Krona. He is a media scholar and assistant professor at the University of Malmo in Sweden. He works on Islamic State propaganda et he is a co-editor and author of "the Media World of Isis" (2019). 

Elsa Drai : Despite active censorship online, jihadists remain active by proposing content on other platforms like Telegram. Thenceforth do you consider reinforcing counterpropaganda (aiming at affecting the credibility of their narrative) could be a relevant tool to use to deconstruct their speech ?

Michael Krona : Counter-narratives have yet to prove efficient, at least online. That said, I believe there are yet possibilities to further utilize online platforms and reversed propaganda narratives against groups like ISIS, not least considering Telegram's inability ( or willingness to censor them). As long as they remain active on Telegram they can extend their outreach on multiple platforms, and certainly, we need much more efforts in counter-propaganda online, but it must be in correlation to civil society and engaging vulnerable audiences in creating their narratives.

E.D : Do you think they will put the stress on "mediatic jihad" to compensate for the loss of their caliphate ?

M.K : The focus on mediated jihad has been prevalent for many years, and I see no reason for it to stop. The loss of territory has not damaged the brand of ISIS, at least not to any significant extent. On the contrary, they regrouped and rebranded into a global social movement which has new forms of appeal and also requires a new form of tactics in countering them. 

The presence online for ISIS and their supporters are extremely high still, and appear to remain for a long time.

E.D : Due to the end of the caliphate, which axes the jihadists use for their propaganda? Has a shift been already observed in that sense ?

M.K : In terms of axes, I assume you mean platforms and narratives. The latter is currently constituted by focusing on revenge for the lost caliphate, as well as renewed allegiances from affiliated groups and branches. Videos forwarding these narratives are currently dominant and speaks volume of ISIS aim to turn global (rather than regional state-project). Platforms are still Telegram as well as experimentation with Whatsapp, Vibes, RocketChat and so forth. ISIS and their supporters are highly active in trying to expand online, and they do so with success.

E.D : What are the main differences between ISIS propaganda and Al Qaida's ?

M.K : Differences between ISIS and AQ are still there, but the two rivals online operations are increasingly similar. They both use Telegram, they both have flexibility in their narrative focus and they both are highly active online. But the main difference is that AQ is still trying to define its brand. They have done so in the shadow of ISIS for several years, and have grown stronger (both militarily and online), but they still have work to do to reach the ISIS brand online and the strong support of ISIS from around the world. AQ is more dependent on regional and national support, which also reflects in the narratives they put forward.