Fancy drones and not so fancy ones

I have to go back to the developing drone war that involves homemade drones that were first introduced by ISIS, since this currently develops quickly and that makes me think. It might be two years ago, when the first remote controlled drones – little quad copters with cameras – had been used by groups surrounding ISIS to document suicide attacks involving cars. Mostly the car could be seen speeding through a desert landscape towards apparent enemy positions, before exploding. Sometimes, before the final blast, smaller explosions could be seen as an indication of an attempt to stop the attacker. Sometimes even tiny figures were visible running away from incoming mayhem.

The more classical use of remote controlled camera drones. The documentation of a suicide attack.

When the first videos of this kind showed up, that was something that changed the visual language of these videos for good. It was quite sexy to be frank and that might be the main reason why these scenes quickly became a new norm for the creation of terrorist propaganda. More and more suicide attacks were presented in exactly the same way – a long shot from the accidental documentation of terror attacks via surveillance cameras or the shaky footage taken with cellphones.

The first example of a suicide in Afghanistan that has been filmed with a drone. Please note the markings that try to resemble those of a conventional airplane.

For maybe a year or so, these new visuals were a Syria and Iraq (i.e. mostly ISIS) exclusive. The fact that then, groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan that are linked to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, managed to catch up, by producing their own drown footage reveals that there is a visual arms race at works, when it comes to propaganda. This is not new and whenever there has been an innovation in propaganda, every side involved in the struggle attempted to catch up as quickly as possible. This predates any modern form of visual creation by far. An example would be the use of woodcut prints during the Thirty Years War. But it is still interesting to look at the extremely fast pace of these developments – and it still baffles me that many of the groups involved yell “Death to the West”, while holding Japanese Cameras and uploading the videos to YouTube and Co. War is corrupt and getting involved might corrupt you – that is not new either.

A couple months ago, the next step in the development became visible. To this point, these gimmicky drones had only been used to document attacks – be it by suicide bombers or regular attackers -, or to provide reconnaissance; all things that mostly utilized the capability of these drones to record and send video images. But this changed when makeshift attachments were developed that enabled the operator to attach explosives to the drones that were then dropped on enemy targets. The first video that shows such an attack, at least the first one I have encountered, is of quite a low quality and the missile shaped bomblets seem quite crude. If the meta information of the file I have is correct, this video was created in early September 2016. The video show two attacks and does not include much more. Neither the drone itself is shown, nor anything prior to the attacks themselves.

The first video of a remote controlled drone that has been used in an attack with explosives – at least the first I came across.

Even though these were some of the first instances, where the drones themselves became part of the warfare, the claim that they did was made much earlier. While documenting attacks by suicide bombers in their cars, the propaganda videos containing drone footage tried to emulate visual effects one might expect from “real” drone strikes. Even though not necessary when flying a little camera drone the videos very often included different displays and markings. Like the ones one can see in computer flight simulators or in footage from real planes. So, the claim was made that the flying objects were more real than they actually are.

This became more evident, when quite recently – if I am correct, on January 24th 2017 – a video was released that showed extensive use of drones in battle. I discussed this video in particular earlier, so I might repeat myself, but this here is a more in-depth text. This video shows two ISIS fighters launching a remote-controlled plane. One that is made to resemble the newest generation of American stealth drones. Ever since one of these drones was captured by the Iranian Armed Forces, the shape of these drones became something of a prototype of what drones are supposed to look like. The drone used by ISIS is much smaller than the original, but that seems of little importance in terms of its propaganda value. The drone is even shown dropping two small bombs, which are in fact modified rifle grenades.

The drone that is shown it the ISIS video.

It is quite interesting that, upon a closer look at the video, it becomes clear that the drone shown in detail, the one that is made to resemble the American stealth drones, is not the one that drops the explosives during combat. It is quite clear that whatever drops those bombs is hovering and therefore must be different from the one shown. These shitty little helicopter style drones, might make good bomb-dropping-devices, their visual appearance is the one of toys. I find it quite funny that there is a group that has a deadly weapon at hand – the quad copters – but for propaganda purposes they need to show something that is far less effective. If they are effective at all.

It turns out though, that “close inspection” is not necessarily what one has to be afraid of, when producing propaganda videos. The fact that murder via drones isn’t a monopoly of America any longer has been noticed by some media outlets. Guess which images are used to illustrate this development? Of course, it is the two guys launching a dysfunctional killing machine. So, the propaganda has been successful in this respect. The article shown here describes how the drone shown is the one that attacks soldiers and bystanders. That is wrong. People are attacked and maybe people are killed. But it is not by the drone shown. Does this make a difference? I would argue that it does. The fact that someone made the effort to make the drone look much fancier than it actually is, shows us that this is an attempt to appear more sophisticated. ISIS wants to be recognized as a global player and not like the random – and incredibly lucky – terror group, which they are. For a fight against a group that utilizes mere toy drones for their terrible deeds the United States would not need to raise their military budget by 54 Billion Dollar, but to fight a group that is capable of using these “highly advanced” drones? Well, take our money – right?!?

This is an article from the German newspaper “Der Tagesspiegel”. The article claims that the drone shown is the one the performs the attacks. Looks certainly scary.
These is the kind of drones that is actually used in these attacks. Definitely more deadly, but not as sex looking. Please not the plastic rings that would hold the rifle grenades – scraps of plastic bottles and not that sophisticated looking.

So, it seems as if one has to be careful with propaganda. I would argue that this is true for everyone involved.

This form of drone warfare seems to be extremely tempting and as it seems, ever side pretty much has started to implement these techniques. You’ll find a huge number of images and videos that refer to the use of quad copters to drop small amounts of explosive by the Iraqi Armed Forces for instance. Quite often it seems as if they just use the drones sized from ISIS forces, but things are already changing and the development is not going to stop here. Not matter how things develop from this point on, some changes are already quite apparent to me. This is the point where I believe that propaganda might come back to hunt the propagandist.

When ISIS used the first drones to produce their videos – the ones that did not kill but merely capture -, they quickly felt tempted to include the appearance of US drone strikes by adding some graphics to the videos that made them appear as if “real” drones had been involved in the attacks. By the way this was also done in the very first drone video from Afghanistan.

As with the use of orange jump suits when executing prisoners and hostages, this was done as a reference to American atrocities. We consumers of videos online are taught to expect certain looks in certain cases. We have a vague idea of what a drone strike might look like. It certainly includes some infographics. Like the ones, a pilot would see. Or the ones, that would be added afterwards to make videos released by the US Armed forces easier to decipher. In a way, this is funny, since most of the videos one can find searching the Web that are labeled as “drone strike footage” haven’t been taken by the cameras mounted on drones. Most of the material is from attacks by regular planes or more often attack helicopters. The real visual language used by real drones remains invisible and classified. Maybe this would reveal too much of the capabilities of these weapon systems.

That doesn’t really matter. We have a somewhat fixed idea of what drone strikes have to look like and ISIS and Co try to emulate it. But what happens if you overdo it? I mean the fact that the “real” drone war, the one over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia – well, pretty much all over the globe, where you find people with brown skin and the wrong faith – remains invisible, while ISIS creates an visual overabundance of examples of their “do-as-if-done-war”, might come back to harm the propagandists. Already, in the West, the outrage over the American drone warfare is quite limited, but now the term “drone” and “drone warfare” becomes more and more associated with the things the other side does. Plus, the more professional the images look that are created by the new players, the easier it becomes to use them in reports by the media in the west. All the CIA and the American Armed Forces have to do is to further limit their visual output and ISIS ends up flooding all channels with their propaganda.

Another example of a mock drone. Maybe this one can drop its bombs, but I have yet to see footage of an attack by a remote controlled plane like the one shown here. These are always carried out using small helicopter style drones.
And even drone control centers are re-enacted.

What had been intended as a carefully produced reference to Western atrocities is going to be a reference to one’s own atrocities. This has already happened with the use of orange jump suits, which was originally intended as a justification towards the terrible things that were done by foreigners to Muslims in places like Guantanamo Bay, but the images that were created were far catchier than the source material. Imagine a guy kneeling in an orange jump suit. What does this remind you of? An execution by ISIS or a prisoner in an American prison camp? Right now it still might be both, but things seem to shift quickly.

And now think about the images of a drone strike. There is already very little to visualize on the American side and ISIS and Co work hard to define these visuals as well. Just wait for the first drone strike somewhere in the West, where the attacker manages to capture the video feed and propagate it online. This then is certainly going to be one of the defining image when you are thinking about the term drone attack.

Even though the image below shows the fancy drone once again, the drawing of the quad copter above tells another story.

Propaganda is a sign of weakness

I find it strange that the propaganda by groups like ISIS causes such great uproar in western media. Propaganda aims at creating a strong image of the group that creates and circulates it. But I would argue that this attempt to look strong might just be another hint at the fact that propaganda is in fact a sign of weakness. If you are strong and you are fully confident that you are, there is absolutely no need for you to appear strong. Only if you lack the confidence or – god forbid – the actual strength, creating propaganda and spreading it might make sense.

So, when people ask me, whether I am not scared discussing the topic of ISIS in my work and on my website, since “they might come for me”, I reply that this question alone tells me much about the whole issue. The reach of groups like ISIS is very limited and this is precisely the point why they use this aggressive form of PR. The try desperately to appear bigger and stronger – and to some extend even omnipresent. Conflicts today aim at our perception and in this way, propaganda can be a very potent tool to spread fear. This is what they are trying.

Of course, someone could always “come for you”. But that is true to the same extend as a with multitude of things that might happen to you at any moment now. Since there is a psychiatric term for it – paranoia – we should be careful before implementing these strategies in our daily lives.

I think I was called mentally deranged – But how would I know?

Last week I met a curator to show her some of my work on Islamist propaganda. I wrote her an email and asked if we could meet and the fact that she replied, let alone the fact that we met in the end, is an almost unheard thing all together. But that would be a different text in of itself.

The meeting itself was quite disastrous, since she absolutely hated what I had to show. It is not the fact that she hated this work that disturbs be slightly, but rather some of the reasons she gave for her distaste. The moment she looked at the material, she instantly replied “why would anyone ever look at this?”. If I understood her correctly, she was talking about two things. First my work, but also the source material itself. She told me that to her understanding only mentally deranged people would ever be caught by this kind of propaganda and never “someone with a college degree”.

I could easily live with her thinking of me as morally or mentally deranged. But since she is in the position of an educator – she happens to run a publicly funded exhibition space -, her views on people who might fall for propaganda are dangerous. It is easiest, I know, to look at your opponent as someone being stupid or morally completely out of line. I think if you do this, it is quite certain, that you and your opponent can at least agree on this one idea – since he definitely thinks of you the same way. But beyond this fictitious agreement, there is little we have learned from this encounter.

She did not even seem to try to understand the mechanisms at work here. For her, all the young men who watch these videos are stupid and all the people who make the videos are evil. She did not really express that, but since I look at the material and work with it, to her, I might even fall in both categories.

One of her arguments was quite striking. She said, the people who create these videos burn innocent victims and are therefore purely evil. At a first glimpse, that sounds like a sound argument. But upon close inspection, I find it funny that she goes for this argument. Since she does not watch any propaganda of this kind – something she made quite clear – it is certainly unknown to her, that this is precisely the argument that is used in some of the propaganda videos. Quite often you see footage of burned and maimed civilians, very often of innocent children, before the video shows the execution of accused spies or foreign soldiers. They seem to look at us in the West as those who burn and maim the innocent and therefore the evil ones.

So, does it help if both sides call the other evil? I guess not. But this is also not the question I am interested in addressing with my work. Taken the decision aside who might be more evil and just take is as a given fact that not everyone who falls for propaganda lacks a degree of higher education, what can we learn from these videos? How do they function? And what could be a societies response to counter them? These are questions the curator should not come to easily, if she is really that quick in dismissing all that is shown.

One reason for her lack of understanding might be that she has a hard time looking beyond the brutality in these videos. But while writing this, the question pops up, how this could matter, since she does not watch any of these videos. From a first-hand perspective, she has little knowledge about how brutal these videos truly are. I guess we are in the realm of the slogan-ized “decapitation video”. It is claimed constantly that these videos are so brutal that no one should watch them and therefore they are somehow removed from an open debate. Many of the videos are absolutely horrible – don’t get me wrong on that – but most are not really beyond the brutality level of Hollywood. Maybe she can not stand R-rated movies either.

To her the brutality might appear to be so outrageous that there is little left to understand. But she is, from what I see, certainly not the kind of person these videos are targeted at. Years ago, when the first Kill Bill movie came out, I went to see it with two Japanese friends. I was somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of violence, blood and gore shown. To my Japanese friends this seemed quite normal. To them, it was a normal way to tell a story about violence. I, on the other hand, grew up with something we might call “more subtle”. Maybe “less revealing” might be a better word for it. Tell the same violent story with less blood and the story might win you an award in Cannes.

But this does not mean that one way to tell a story is the better way. Communication always has a sender and a recipient. And both sides must come to terms on the language they use. This is true for written or spoken language and it is similarly true for a visual form of storytelling.

I would guess that the curator would be amongst those people who complain about young people and the “degenerate” way they speak. The slang youth uses seems to be disturbing for every generation of adults. Languages evolve.

These violent propaganda videos, fast paced, brutal, are just not made to recruit someone like her. Once you grow up in a visual environment that contains the Internet, contemporary action movies and computer games though, you certainly understand the visual language much better. This is no argument to prohibit violent movies or violent computer games. Even without them, the world would not become a better place but rather this would merely alter the visual representation of violence. The Nazis did not share images from their concentration camps, since that was just not something you would do back then. This lack of visual PR-work did not stop them to do any of the things they did.

Drones seem to work better if they look like drones

So, a couple years ago, the Iranian Military got its hands on one of the newest American Drones. One, where the people who sell them claim that they are “stealth” and therefore almost invisible for radar and perfectly suited for espionage and clandestine killing. The whole event was an embarrassment on the American site and cause for celebration for the Iranian government.

Schematic drawing of the drone the Americans “lost”.

The apparent success might have something to do with the very distinct appearance of this fancy drone. Far remote from the makeshift look many current drones share, with an old-fashioned looking propeller on the back and bombs and sensors sticking out everywhere; this one does look like Sci-Fi. So even though the drone was damaged during the capture, it created quite a number of images that were eagerly used by the press worldwide.

The captured drone is presented to the media.

Sometime later, after the Iranian government had declared that they had reverse engineered the drone, images of an Iranian copy of the drone made their round on the Internet and in certain media outlets. The fly worthiness of the drone was instantly questioned, but that did not really seem to matter. This was about a propaganda coup. Again, the very distinct appearance of the drone made it quite easy to rip it off. The round shapes, the rough edges, all quite easily copied with some fiberglass and the fact that the shape of the original drone hides most of the intricate internal working certainly made things easier.

The Iranian “reverse engineered” version of the drone.

So, the new drone, even though possibly not able to do anything, did serve its purpose. Plus: since this had been a highly classified American drone, there had been no (or very little) footage released of it flying before the capture, so why should the Iranians not follow the American lead? Propaganda is normally not aimed at those people who can easily decipher it as propaganda. Therefore, in terms of propaganda, good enough is all you need. This makeshift drone copy was certainly good enough.

The distinct shape of the drone became even part of the local propaganda folklore

A few months ago, there was a grainy video from Syria or Iraq, that showed explosives being dropped by a remote-controlled drone on some fighters below. Even though this was done by certainly using one of those enthusiast level hobby drones, this was in a way an escalation. For quite some time before drone footage was more and more used to document attacks. But these were limited to enabling the viewer a different perspective on the battlefield. A new vantage point. This first “drone strike from the oppressed”, looked quite crude. The video quality was low and the whole device seemed wonky.

A couple of days ago, there was some fuzz on the channels I use to find the videos I download over an upcoming film that was going to show a number of drone strikes by ISIS on targets in and around of Mosul. But the biggest news seemed to be that ISIS was using a high-tech drone, close to the one the Americans had lost. At least that seemed to be the claim.

The ISIS version.
Note the three GoPro cameras used to film the flight. These are not present in the image above.

In a way, the video, when it was published, was in deed very scary. It seems as if the technology here has developed to a point, where it is possible for insurgents to utilize remote controlled drones to kill people from a distance. And this the video shows at some length. Several groups of people are attacked – and from the looks of it people are certainly injured and maybe even killed.

But what strikes me in relationship to the story above goes beyond that. In the video, you see two guys operating a remote-controlled drone that carries two little bombs and it even shows the bombs being dropped mid-flight. The shape of the drone, which is little more than an RC plane, is made to resemble the high-end drones used by the Americans and copied by the Iranians. Sure, that might be a mere coincidence and could just be done to achieve better aerodynamics, but if you look at the video closely, it becomes clear that the drone shown isn’t actually the drone used in the attacks.

The attacks are shot from a stationary vantage point and therefore would require the drone to hover. So, it is more likely that the attacks were undertaken with tiny little helicopters. Sure, they had been as deadly and as scary. But my question would be why bother and built a completely different drone if you do not use it in the attacks altogether? Wouldn’t it be easier to just show the drones you use for your attacks? Maybe not. If you want to call something a “drone strike”, maybe you need something that resembles the common idea of what a drone looks like. You have to follow the drone archetype and make it your own.

The helicopter stile drone might be far better in dropping bombs and killing people, but “real armies” us real drone and due to the Iranian propaganda, real drones have become an image that resembles them. The fact that the size of the ISIS drone is off by a factor of ten does not really matter. The drone has merely become a shape and form and neither its final size nor its real capabilities seem to matter. To the visually driven outside world, both look the same. Most people would not bother to research such an image any further. They might have a vague idea of what a modern American drone might look like – since Iranian propaganda was everywhere and the images from this source had been used in Western media as well – and if the shape somehow fits, well, that can only mean that ISIS now has modern drones. This is all propaganda needs.


J.M.W. Turner and the Islamic State

I came across this image on Telegram, which threatens the UK with a terror attack on London.

It might not be the best of all Photoshop worlds, but I had to smile. Oddly enough, it reminded me of the painting by J.M.W. Turner and especially the ones of the burning Houses of Parliament. I am not saying that the Islamist who did the image above took his inspiration directly from Turner. I would rather say that Turner has been so inspirational that traces of his work could even be found in Islamist propaganda. Or maybe it is just me who sees the connection. I still think it is funny.


Islamist Propaganda might be the New Child Porn

Ever time and era in human history had its rules regarding the prohibition of images. And there have always been perfectly good reasons for why these rules had to be enforced. Still none of these rules held true forever and so if we have learned anything, we should come to the conclusion that our own perfectly good sounding reasons might be up for question as well.

I had a conversation yesterday on my work regarding ISIS videos. The two nice guys I was talking to both argued that these execution videos should be prohibited to spread. They even argued that depicting these gruesome acts falls in the same category as child pornography. I think there are quite many things wrong with this argument.

Child pornography is a strange thing indeed. This seems to be the only material that could get you in real trouble on the Internet by just looking at it. I am not talking about sharing, buying, storing, but rather just looking at it. (Please keep in mind that I am writing this from a German perspective.)

So it seems to me, that the two guys I was talking with, are not the only ones that try to throw “beheading videos” in the same basket with child pornography. I believe, I have heard similar attempts from several politicians in the past. They are aiming at islamist propaganda, but call it “beheading videos” – sounds much catchier if you ask me and makes the public easier follow their lead. Of course, no one wants beheading videos and the fact that the huge majority of islamist propaganda does not contain beheadings becomes a mere side note.

I am not saying that this material – child pornography or islamist porn should be treated as any other pictures or videos online. But I would like to question the idea of prohibiting certain images in themselves. Criminal acts should be prosecuted and so therefore should be those people, who produce and share, sell and buy these videos. But merely criminalizing the shear encounter with these images is wrong. They might be breaking any moral codes we have, or do not fit in any of our multitudes of ideas, of what should be considered good taste, but just by making most people avoid looking at something, won’t make it go away.

To me the “child porn” argument seems one of last resort. Something I even learned during the conversation I had. First the two guys I was talking with argued with “bad taste”, something very generic. Later they tried the argument, that decapitations should not be shown, since these videos are violating the privacy rights of those executed. Well, of course they do, but I find the bigger violation to their privacy the fact that they have been executed in the first place. I have yet to encounter a single image from the death camps of the Second World War, where peoples faces are blurred. I find it extremely important to give these nameless victims at least a face. It is hard to look at, but so is this form of brutality in general.

It might not be necessary for everyone to look at these images – child porn or beheadings – but for the society as a whole, it might be important to really know what is out there to fine tune our response. Personally I find the mere idea of child porn so disgusting, that I have no intention to even look at this material. I encountered some in the past by accident and to me this is enough. But there have to be people working on this material and I would definitely want to see a talk or presentation on the way these images look, or how they evolve over time, where they draw their inspiration and if a response to the growing pressure from the criminal justice side can be found in this material.

Image Primacy

So two guys attacked a church in France today, beheading a priest before being shot by police. That alone seems almost normal at the moment. But there is one thing that has become another part of the normal routine that keeps sparking my interest. According to some sources, the attackers forced the priest to kneel down and the filmed his decapitation. So it seems just a matter of hours, before this material is available in some dark corners of the Internet.

Some time ago, it seemed as if the measurement for the success of a terrorist attack was the body count, the number of people killed (and to a lesser extend the number of those wounded).  Maybe that is still somewhat the case – and the number of people killed and wounded has definitely a clear relationship to the number of front pages filled -, but to me there seems to be a shift.

I know, it is more complicated than that still, the calculation goes like this:

Amount of Fucks

Today, the measurement for the success of a terrorist attack seems to come mostly from the images it produces. Otherwise two dead terrorists for one dead priest would not sound all that successful.

But images become more and more important and therefore more and more powerful. It is just a matter of time, when the first terror attacks are streamed live. So far this has only happened in the aftermath of these events, but tools like Facebook Live or Periscope make it seem to be the logical next step. I guess the war in Syria would already be streamed live, if the mobile Internet in this war torn nation would just not be that bad.

But for me the question goes deeper. If it is true that images become the deciding factor (even though I make the argument here that they are, of course I can not be sure) – So if this is true, could we argue that  this is then  something we could call “image primacy”? With this I mean that people are not killed to be killed, but rather they are killed to produce images and therefore produce “news”. Otherwise, why bother killing a 86 year old priest? Something I have already argued for, when collecting images taken by snipers, while killing their victims. The victim does not seem to be important anymore, but the image itself seems to matter. That way it does make perfect sense to kill a priest inside a beautiful old church. It is the perfect setting to produce images that stand out.

The whole thing makes me sad.

Artificial Intelligence and Orange Jump Suits

I was searching online for the site, where I found a certain ISIS execution image, since I can not remember – and I forgot to write the link down. It is this one:AI and the Iconic1


Sure, the results were what I have expected and looked like this:AI and the Iconic2

It goes on like this for quite some time. Execution upon execution. But if you look closely, it gets quite interesting and somewhat complex. It does not show the same execution over and over again, rather it shows different, very similar stills. This tells me different things. First of all, whoever shot these videos for ISIS, has been very careful setting them up, so to create an iconic image of the scene. The one still seems enough to tell the whole story. This gets so far, that some media outlets use these images and completely forget to tell the name of the victim. These videos – and the stills from them – have become archetypal. They illustrate “terror” and the details seem almost unimportant.

But then there is the fact that these videos all show “western” victims (I use quotes, since Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto were Japanese). Maybe they show “our” victims. What I mean with that is the fact that I have seen so many videos with men in orange jump suits kneeling on the ground, before being executed, and most of them use a similar composition.

I think there is a feedback loop at play here. Since western media mostly report on western victims, the image search algorithm values these images higher than others. But is it OK? Mmmhhh, I think one could definitely argue against it and call it media bias. Then again, of course members of what we consider our own society are more deeply connected to us, than “strangers”. It is biased, but maybe understandably so. And ISIS gets this as well. This is exactly, why Iraqis, Kurds, Syrians or Libyans are often executed “by the dozen” whereas the execution of a westerner becomes its own feature film. Some of these films that show the execution of westerners, also show the execution of groups of other prisoners – but this happens as a byproduct. I don’t think it should come as a surprise when we realize that ISIS – among many other things – seems to be racist.

But back to the image search. One thing the results do not show is this:


This is an image from the early 2000s that was taken at Guantanamo prison. We almost forget that this is actually what ISIS is referring to, when using these orange jump suits. But maybe they overdid, what they did. OK, I am writing from my own, western, perspective, but to me it seems as if the orange jump suit does not so much represent the atrocities by the West. Rather perception has shifted towards associating this iconic piece of clothing with the atrocities committed by ISIS and Co. I wonder if they realize this. The more they use it, the more they are the ones associated with this icon of injustice.

The same seems to be true, when searching for the term “orange jump suit”.AI and the Iconic4

On the first page, there is almost no mentioning of Guantanamo – there is one image of an Iraqi prisoner threatened by a dog though. “Orange Jump Suit” mostly seems to be connected to the american prison system and – oddly – sexy ladies wearing them. That might have something to do with the TV series “Orange is the New Black”. But there is a link to a further search in relationship to ISIS at the top of the page.

Another somewhat strange example I encountered was a video from 2013, that shows rapper and actor Mos Def (or Yasiin Bey – the name he uses now). In this video he undergoes the routine of force feeding that was used at the time in Guantanamo (maybe it still is) and caused quite some media outrage. It is interesting that to fully undergo this treatment he apparently also had to wear an orange jump suit. Maybe this gives the whole procedure more authenticity, but I find such details quite often slightly absurd.mos defI wonder if it is more or less painful, if you are wearing orange. OK, that is cynical. But I would get the fact, that this is torture, even without him wearing this symbolic piece of clothing.

While thinking about this, I was wondering how clever the algorithm actually is and if it manages to understand the icon in its most basic form. Jihadi

This is what I came up with very briefly. But unfortunately neither Google, nor any other image search site I tried came up with any result.  So maybe AI has still some way to go.



If advertising would work, it would be prohibited

I know that the power of advertising apparently lays in the unconscious manipulation of our minds to guide us towards chose one product over the other. But I am not so much talking about what we call advertising, but what has been classified as propaganda. I would argue that propaganda – at least today – is just a word that is used for your opponents advertising.  That way, advertising and propaganda are pretty much the same.

But propaganda is treated as if it works perfectly. As if it in itself is dangerous. Like the idea of crack cocaine. Once you use it, just once, you are hooked and lost forever. Therefore access to it has to be prevented.

But I don’t think that this is the right approach. Especially not today, when everything that is prohibited can still be found somewhere hiding in the Web.

I am not saying we should let companies do whatever they want, since – as I am arguing – advertising does not really work. Markets are never going to regulate themselves and if tobacco companies, for decades advertise their products as pure lifestyle objects without any negative side effects, it is quite difficult for a society to compete with these billion dollar marketing budgets. Therefore I do believe that certain forms of advertising ought to be restricted.

But looking at islamist propaganda, at first one can be astonished by the sheer amount of material that pours out of Syria or Afghanistan. Upon closer inspection though, it is easy to realize that the material that is flooding Twitter, Telegram or Youtube is mostly copies. From what I have seen so far, I would guess that rarely more than ten new videos are posted each day. And most of these videos are not the highly edited and scripted videos, that are extremely professional looking . But it is the way these videos are shared, that makes the amount appear much bigger. Since many sites take the videos down as soon as someone flags them, they are uploaded on as many sites as possible. Quite often in multiple versions with different names. That can be confusing and overwhelming.

Sure, if this outpour is compared to the release of government funded PSA videos that try to inform young people of the dangers of groups like ISIS, ten videos a day is a lot. But if you look at the 24hour new circle and the general media production in the West, ten videos a day is nothing. I think limiting access to this material gives it a broader scope than it would otherwise have. It become special and interesting. Maybe we should let it drown in the stream of videos and photos that appear on the internet with little to no effect.


The Propagandists Problem with Propaganda

We all know that propaganda lies, and who knows it better than the propagandist himself. But in a way, propaganda is always the other sides propaganda. Most people would not classify their own media output as propaganda – at least not to the outside world. That used to be different and I keep stumbling upon the fact that Joseph Goebbels was head of the “Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda“ … what a title! But today, propaganda sounds bad and therefore it is mostly used to classify the outpour of the other side.


What happens though, when two groups utilizing propaganda collide? It might not be enough to classify the other sides productions as propaganda, more might be needed. An interesting case is a video from Yemen, that has been released recently, entitled “The Hollywood Reality of Al Bagdadi Group” (sic!). “Al Bagdadi” refers to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS. This video has been released by a group associated to Al Qaeda, which has a deep rooted hatred for ISIS.

The video shows a guy, who’s face is blurred, claiming to be a former ISIS member, who discusses the way he was involved in the staging of a recent propaganda video. In front of a monitor, he explains certain scenes from the video and how they are manipulated Later he is shown in a house that was apparently been used as a set for the video and he even reenacts a scene, where on of his ISIS colleagues was posing as a dead Houthi fighter. The blood, that can be seen in the original video, he claims, was not blood, but merely Vimto, a dark red soft drink.

I find it quite fascinating, that this kind of “educational video” is produced by a group that uses the same techniques to produce their own propaganda. I wonder if the people watching this video are going to be more doubtful about the next Al Qaeda video, they encounter.