The self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) or Daesh, as the group is known in Arabic, is leaving no stone unturned in their quest to meet their aims and objectives.
As the United States, Russia, Syrian government troops, Iraqi forces and other militant groups are fighting Daesh in the ‘real world’, there is another war going on online.
The beginning of this year saw a record number of young Western Muslims joining Daesh to fight in Syria. According to security experts, the main tool motivating these young people to join Daesh, is the group’s effective propaganda techniques on social media. Some analysts have even stated that Daesh could not be defeated in the physical battle grounds alone; instead, there must also be a mechanism that targets and removes the group’s propaganda messages on social media.
You might have heard about some of the group’s propaganda messages. Today, we are showing you how Daesh picked a photographer’s photo and turned it into a propaganda tool, aiming to gain sympathy and encourage more young Muslims to join the group.
In 2012, a photographer called Brian McCarty, shot a photograph in Gaza as part of his WAR-TOYS Project, a photo essay exploring war from the perspective of the children who face it every day. McCarty’s objective was to tell the story of war from the perspective children. He had no malicious intent. As you can see below, McCarty’s photo showed bombs descending on the ground as a Cinderella doll looked on. The Cinderella photo was inspired by a drawing that was made by a little girl from Gaza. The young girl’s drawing had shown war descending upon a crying child. McCarthy has been working on his essay for the past four years.
However, unknown to McCarty, ISIS had stolen the photo, manipulated it to suite their agenda, and had disseminated it on many social media platforms. In the manipulated version of the photo (featured below), the Cinderella doll has been replaced with an ISIS flag. And the ISIS black flag is protecting an open Koran inside a bubble. The propaganda text that is featured on the altered image reads: “Even if war destroys everything, the Islamic sign and state is protected and will never fall down.”
When McCarty first saw the photo on Facebook, he did not understand. He contacted his friend who speaks Arabic, and the friend confirmed that the photo is ISIS propaganda. He told the Hyperallergic in an interview, that his photo was about articulating children’s experiences of war, and that ISIS’s action has disheartened him.
“I’m not happy about commercial theft, but I’ve had to get pretty thick-skinned. The ISIS theft is something completely different and far more disturbing. They took a little girl’s very real fear of war and turned it into something promoting extremist beliefs, ones at the core of unspeakable amounts of death and suffering,” he said.
According to Hyperallergic, ISIS started using the photo somewhere around August, 2014. It was shared on Twitter, Facebook, BlogSpot, and other platforms.
McCarty said he sent a request to Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and Pixsy, websites that give photographers the opportunity to take legal action against those who steal their images and use them for criminal activities. In the event the photos are distorted, the websites also help photographers take down their photos on online sites.
Pixsy confirmed in a post that they have been able to successful send off several DMCA takedowns to Twitter and BlogSpot. The site further added that the platforms have responded quickly by taking down the propaganda photo. McCarty is now considering taking a symbolic International Legal Action against ISIS.