June 18, 2024 | WIRED

Pro-Islamic State outlet using CNN and Al Jazeera branding to boost reach

Executive Director for Africa, the Middle East and Asia, Moustafa Ayad, spoke to WIRED about ISD’s investigation on a pro-Islamic State (IS) network using CNN and Al Jazeera branding in faux newscasts, exploiting platform moderation gaps in order to spread the group’s ideology. The network, tied to the pro-IS outlet War and Media, produced 8 videos between February and April focusing on an element of IS’ global activity, from its attacks on the Nigerian army and Moscow to its war with both al-Queda and Russia’s Wagner Group.

“It’s the first time we’ve really seen a concerted effort by an Islamic State outlet to create this fake ecosystem of news that isn’t branded as something that’s affiliated with the Islamic State,” Moustafa said. “It was very much a test of the system and now they know where there are weaknesses in their strategy.” 

While the Facebook, YouTube and X/Twitter accounts had a small following, IS supporters were also found to be downloading and sharing the newscasts, gaining thousands of additional views. Whilst none of the content went viral, it was “enough for the group to get some traction in circles outside where they would normally get [traction] and saw real people commenting under the videos,” Moustafa said.

While using media branding isn’t a new tactic– for example, in the past they’ve taken a logo and placed it on top of the Islamic State logo– the new campaign focuses on creating entire accounts and on-screen channel credentials using CNN and Al Jazeera’s Centre for Research Studies branding. Moustafa explained, they were “actually creating channels as those media outlets and then creating an entire newscast around a specific issue, using footage from a range of different sources—not just the Islamic State, but footage that you could find online or other news channel footage.” 

The full Dispatch is available on our site.