Jihadis around the world are ridiculing CNN for their contention that Islamic State is luring young women by posting pictures of cats and tweeting of a blissful life where they can eat Nutella just like at home.
The bizarre report appeared on the network last Wednesday, and since then, terrorists and their supporters have been posting some surprisingly inventive — and because it’s at the expense of CNN — humorous pictures of terrorists holding cats and jars of Nutella.
This is the graphic that set off the social media storm:
Politifact felt compelled to weigh in on the silliness:
As fact-checkers, we felt beckoned to sort out the confusion. Was CNN’s segment just plain weird or onto something?
CNN did not return emails and calls for comment. We went to experts who track jihadist groups, including ISIS, on social media.
“The way that the CNN story was framed was kind of funny and eyeroll-inducing,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “but it’s largely correct.”
The online prowess of the Islamic State is a well-documented strength of the movement. From videos to online forums to journals to various social media websites, supporters disseminate propaganda messages (90,000 a day) that are more slickly produced and reach wider audiences than efforts from other terrorist groups (think of al-Qaida home videos showing Osama bin Laden speaking into the camera with little other detail).
ISIS even has plans for a 24-hour propaganda network, said Daniel Cohen, a research fellow and coordinator of the cyber security program at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies.
And yes, the group’s supporters also speak in emojis, tweet pictures of themselves unwinding with Nutella and run Twitter accounts like @ISILCats showing jihadists cuddling with kittens and kittens cuddling with firearms. It’s all part of an effort to speak the same cultural language as potential recruits so that they don’t think life with the Islamic State is all beheadings and burnings, Cohen said.
“Most of the people sharing this content on social media came from Western culture,” Cohen said.
It makes them seem relatable and charismatic, said Gartenstein-Ross, adding that it’s nothing new for ISIS.
Richard Brennan, a Middle East expert at the RAND Institute, said the ISIS campaign “is much more sophisticated” than what was portrayed on CNN.
“It’s targeting the young men and women who want to be part of something greater than themselves to accept this movement for the validity that they believe the Koran is teaching,” he said.
It says something profoundly sad about the American media that a network like CNN would actually advance this theory seriously. They obviously have no understanding of the terrorists or what motivates them. How can they critique or analyze the president’s policies if they’re that ignorant?