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Fighting ISIS Online: An Introduction to Breaking the ISIS Brand

Fighting ISIS Online: An Introduction to Breaking the ISIS Brand

Date and time: Wednesday, August 5, 2020, 11 to 12:30 pm Eastern Daylight Time (UTC-4)

Register here.

Join the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) team to discuss the conception, creation, use, and assessment of the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project.

ICSVE’s Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project was started in 2015 with the idea of using former terrorists speaking about their negative experiences inside terrorist groups to be disseminated online to disrupt ISIS’s online and face-to-face recruitment. While no one expected at the time that it would be possible to get actual ISIS terrorists to agree to interviews, ICSVE’s director Anne Speckhard has over the past five years managed to obtain 243 research interviews to date with ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners, many happy to denounce the group as un-Islamic, corrupt, and overly brutal as well as advise others to steer clear of it. As a result, the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project was born.

To date, ICSVE has produced nearly 200 counternarrative videos created from the video recorded in-depth psychological interviews of 243 ISIS defectors, returnees, and imprisoned cadres, as well as 16 al Shabaab, which have been tested in face-to-face focus groups as well as in online campaigns. With the support of Facebook, ICSVE has run the counternarrative videos in over 150 Facebook and Instagram campaigns all over the world, in numerous languages. While other counternarratives have fallen flat or been dismissed as government propaganda, ICSVE’s videos have gleaned millions of views and elicited strong emotional reactions from viewers. What makes these counternarratives successful, and how is such success defined? How can counternarratives be used by different entities to prevent and counter radicalization?

At ICSVE’s sixth Zoom panel, director Dr. Anne Speckhard will be joined by video director Zack Baddorf and research fellow Molly Ellenberg to discuss the use of stories of individuals speaking in simple language about their attraction to a terrorist group and their experiences inside it, how the videos can be useful for prevention and intervention in future terrorist recruitment, how they may be useful to practitioners in terms of prevention and interventions and how success can be assessed for such projects as the ICSVE’s Breaking the ISIS Brand counternarrative videos.

Dr. Anne Speckhard is an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and has also taught the psychology of terrorism for the Security Studies Department in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University where she is also affiliated. Dr. Speckhard is the director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism where she, among many other activities, directs the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counternarratives Project. Dr. Speckhard has consulted to NATO, OSCE, foreign governments and the US departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA and FBI. She is a sought-after speaker, media expert and consultant on the subject of terrorism frequently appearing on CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times and many other publications. She frequently lectures on subjects related to her books and research studies.

Zack Baddorf is director of Visual Media at ICSVE. He is a journalist and filmmaker with more than 15 years of experience producing award-winning stories in more than 30 countries, including Syria, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the West Bank, Kashmir, and Iraq, as well as rebel-held territory in Sri Lanka and Burma. His work has been published by The New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, Reuters, AP, The Guardian, CBS, ABC, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, Newsweek, VICE, RYOT, Al Jazeera English, and other publications in video, radio, photo, and print formats. His videos on social media alone have more than 30 million views. While based in the Central African Republic, Zack broke the news of the American military ending its mission against the Lord’s Resistance Army. His in-depth reporting on the Syrian town of Moadamiyah contributed to humanitarian access being granted to besieged people there. Weeks before Russian troops invaded Crimea, my reporting from the peninsula highlighted its political importance in the conflict. For a year in Afghanistan, Zack worked on rural, remote bases for the U.S. Special Operations Command as a civilian videographer, alongside Green Berets, Navy SEALs and Afghan security forces. Zack has also worked as an adjunct professor at New York University and New York Film Academy, teaching public relations and broadcast journalism. He holds a master of fine arts degree in documentary studies, a master of arts degree in international relations, another master’s degree in public relations and a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

Molly Ellenberg is a research fellow at ICSVE. Molly Ellenberg holds an M.A. in forensic psychology from The George Washington University and a B.S. in psychology with a specialization in clinical psychology from UC San Diego. At ICSVE, she is working on coding and analyzing the data from ICSVE’s qualitative research interviews of ISIS and al Shabaab terrorists, running Facebook and Instagram campaigns to disrupt ISIS’s and al Shabaab’s online and face-to-face recruitment and developing and giving training for use with the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project videos. She is also studying responses to the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative videos on Twitter and YouTube. Molly has presented original research at the International Summit on Violence, Abuse, and Trauma and UC San Diego Research Conferences. Her research has also been published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma, the Journal of Strategic Security, and the International Studies Journal. Her previous research experiences include positions at Stanford University, UC San Diego, and the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland.

This is the sixth discussion in this series of panels discussing ISIS Foreign Fighters and terrorist rehabilitation. The first panel, “Issues of ISIS Prisoners & Repatriations in a Time of COVID,” can be reviewed here. The second panel, “Can an ISIS Terrorist be Rehabilitated and Reintegrated into Society?” featuring Redouan Safdi and Moussa Al-Hassan Diaw, can be reviewed here and the report that was inspired by this panel can be found here. The third panel, “Can We Repatriate the ISIS Children?” can be reviewed here and the report that was inspired by this panel can be found here. The fourth panel, “Terrorist Rehabilitation in the Dutch Prison System,” can be reviewed here. The fifth panel, “Into and Back Out of ISIS: An ISIS Defector Speaks Out,” can be reviewed here.

The panel will each speak briefly and questions will be most welcome with a lively discussion to ensue! Questions can be posed using the Zoom chat feature or by Twitter to @ICSVE

You are welcome to share this invitation with interested colleagues.

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