The Islamic State’s use of social media to publicize its many atrocities, while disturbing, is nothing new — in fact, it was the Mexican drug cartels that launched this modern era of “terro-communication”, Don Winslow argues in the Daily Beast.
The orange jumpsuits worn by ISIS’ prisoners in the terror group’s propaganda videos have become iconic.
But the videos’ standard “plotline” — in which the captives are interviewed and then beheaded or shot on camera — is far from original.
“In May 2005, a cartel boss … captured four Zeta hitmen sent to kill him,” Winslow writes. “He took them upstairs in a safe house, lined the floor and walls with black plastic bags, and then ‘interviewed’ them on a handheld Sony camcorder.”
The prisoners were shot shortly after confessing on camera, Winslow recalls. Copies of the tape were then distributed to the media.
Recorded propaganda published by media outlets or on the internet is an easy way to gain instant notoriety, but the cartels’ violent messages were not always videotaped. The drug lords’ “narcomensajes” could take many different forms, including handwritten signs placed atop the bodies of cartel victims.
ISIS, similarly, has been known to mount the heads of its victims on poles and leave them on display in the streets as a scare tactic.
The cartels, like ISIS, realised early on that if they were going to behead, disembowel, and torture their enemies, they might as well capitalise on the violence and create propaganda to intimidate the population — and inspire potential recruits.
Both cartels and the Islamic State have had great success in recruiting youthslooking for adventure and community.
Mexico’s “narcocultura”, or drug culture, was becoming so popular that the Mexican government chose to fight back with its own online propaganda featuring anti-drug comics set to a techno soundtrack, Wired reported in 2011.
The quality of ISIS’ videos has now far surpassed that of the drug cartels thanks toa talented post-production teamand itshighly savvy media wing, Al Hayat. But the original purpose remains the same: to make the world view the organisation as a powerful political entity, and its videos as a form of political discourse.
“This is the ISIS playbook: social media as a means of intimidation, recruitment, and provocation; mass murder as a means of control — that we now watch with horror and revulsion,” Winslow writes. “But, in reality, we’ve been seeing it for years … just across our border.”
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