The U.S. State Department has stepped up the intensity of its game against ISIL on the social media battlefield, with a round of new videos it hopes will curb the enthusiasm potential recruits have for the extremist group.
In a series of mock recruitment videos posted to YouTube (Warning: videos are extremely graphic), the State Department has remixed ISIL videos and photographs depicting crucifixions, people being whipped, shot in the head and thrown off cliffs that the extremist group regularly publishes through their own social media channels with the intention of recruiting fighters and supporters.
State's gruesome videos are part of a departure from its earlier efforts in its longstanding government program that attempts to turn the very digital recruiting tools used by terrorist organizations against them.
As part of a larger social media campaign, State Department's Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) utilizes YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter to get the message out to those who have or are considering joining terrorist organizations. This particular campaign was launched last year under the name, "Think Again, Turn Away," with its own Twitter account and hashtag, with which State responds to extremist postings.
"Our mission is to expose the facts about terrorists and their propaganda. Don't be misled by those who break up families and destroy their true heritage," the State Department posted on the campaign's Facebook page.
However, this might be more a case of mock video being mocked. Last year, when the CSCC put together a similar video mocking al-Qaeda, it became the point of jokes throughout the Middle East.
"We are actually giving al Qaeda the benefit of the doubt because we are answering their arguments," said the CSCC's Alberto Fernandez, at the time. "The way I see it is we are participating in the marketplace of ideas."
It's not clear that the State Department's strategy of turing away potential recruits is working, but it might have some unanticipated positive results.
"If you're talking about would-be extremists reading a tweet and turning away from violence as a result, it's hard to tell how much that is happening," Will McCants of the Brookings Institution told Mother Jones. "So if you measure success that way, it's hard to know. But you can demonstrate that this kind of effort has gotten into the heads of senior leadership. With al-Shabaab, for instance, leaders issued a directive saying not to interact with the State Department accounts because they spread lies about the mujahideen."