ISIS and Social Media: What Do You Think?


ISIS (or whatever we’re supposed to call them these days) just beheaded 21 Coptic Christians in Libya. It was the latest in a seemingly unending series of brutal and barbaric attacks orchestrated by the terrorist groups as they seeks to establish a caliphate state.

One of the major differences between ISIS and Al-Qaeda (whom they replaced, both as the terror group most likely to be mentioned as an “existential threat” and as the motivation for a request of authorized force by the President of the U.S.) is, as Paul Waldman noted, that Al-Qaeda brought attention and thus legitimacy through expansive, extensive attacks against the West. ISIS, on the other hand, has brought attention predominantly through smaller, brutal, barbaric executions of individuals from the East.

These brutal attacks then get disseminated rapidly through social media. Understandably concerned citizens post news accounts and responses on Twitter and Facebook, and the news spreads just as rapidly as if ISIS was orchestrating the entire response. As a church, we just wrapped up a series entitled “Unplugged: Finding Peace in a Digital Age.”  My question is: how do we effectively use social media in the context of brutal, barbaric attacks half a world away?

I’m not writing this because I have some sort of opinion. I actually don’t; my wife does (and that’s partly why I’m writing), but I don’t. I’m writing it because I’m interested in hearing other’s opinions.

What is the best way to respond to the brutal, individual executions from ISIS? Certainly, it seems important to be aware of things that are happening in the world. It seems notable that a religious terrorist group is beheading people while identifying them as Christians and indicating that they have their sights set on Rome (the seat of Catholicism). But beyond that, is there a danger in disseminating what are essentially propaganda videos? Is there a reason to disseminate or watch videos of brutal executions?

Feel free to leave a thought or a Scripture as we continue to think through, as a community, how to engage in a world dominated by technology and social media.


I see a difference between watching spontaneous violence, say, against a crime victim, and watching a terrorist attack videoed to spread propaganda. I don't have a firm belief on this, though. I just know that as a mother I believe I may shriek at a video of my child being murdered by terrorists being posted on FB more than one of my child being assaulted by a police officer (as some have mentioned). This is NOT a statement about the police but a reference to other comments I have seen on FB today. Rather, it's a mom trying to understand this issue.

I think that's my initial inclination as well.

To be clear, the facts about what is happening over there should be shared of course. Those martyred deserve honor.

Knowing that they want the videos to spread is what makes me personally not view or share them. I just tweeted an article in the Atlantic that describes their goals in detail, and I think understanding them is important, especially for our government. But that doesn't have to mean watching or spreading videos that are basically propaganda in my opinion.

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