ISIS Propaganda Declined After Military Pressure, West Point Report Says

PHOTO: ISISs social media presence has dropped.Getty Images
ISIS's social media presence has dropped.

ISIS appears to be struggling to produce the same volume of online propaganda as in days past thanks in large part to a sustained military assault by the anti-ISIS coalition, according to a new report by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

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The comprehensive report from the academic center at the United States Military Academy (USMA), Communication Breakdown: Unraveling the Islamic State’s Media Efforts, says at its peak in August 2015 the terror group posted 700 items from its official media outlets, but persistent military pressure has shrunk that number to just 200 a year later. The report also notes that ISIS is producing far fewer messages about its successful governance and the promise of a happy-life within it's so called "caliphate," instead posting more messages about it's deadly battles.

ISIS has become well known for its highly-produced and brutal execution videos, but also for its ability through digital media to recruit 40,000 foreign fighters to the region over five years.

What's most interesting about the decline in the terror group's media production, the report's author Daniel Milton told ABC News in an interview, is its shift away from any positive messages.

"This is a group that has branded itself as a state-governing institution, and they're not able to do that anymore," Milton said. "I think that says something about the long-term difficulty in the caliphate project."

But, Milton warned, just as ISIS has shown an ability to adapt on the battlefield, its propaganda arm will likely do the same. "If it's not a caliphate and its just now a terrorist network, the media expertise that they've garnered can be used for that purpose as well," Milton said.

Social media companies like Twitter, which have become more aggressive in shutting down Islamic State media accounts, have also contributed to the slow down, according to Milton's report.

The State Department welcomed news from the report today. "We have been making a dent in Daesh's ability to propagate their twisted narrative and recruit fighters either to come to Iraq or Syria or to conduct attacks at home," State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a press briefing, using an alternate name for the Islamic State.

"We know they're having trouble recruiting talent and we know that they're having trouble retaining fighters and they certainly continue to lose leaders," he added.

Just last month, the Pentagon announced an airstrike had killed ISIS' minister of information, "Dr. Wa'il," who was responsible for some of the groups gruesome execution videos and had special access to ISIS's senior leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

That strike was the second in two weeks targeting a senior ISIS leader involved in ISIS's media operation.

But even if the twisted messages all come down, the effect they'll have will be lasting, "particularly as it applies to the most vulnerable subset of this population: children," the report said. "The psychological effects of the group’s control over what people read, watched, and heard will likely outlast its physical control of the territory."