Reconstructing the theater of terror

Matthew M. Sweeney, Arie Perliger, Ami Pedahzur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The study explores the nexus of violence and mass media, and the ability of terrorists to enhance their influence and resources via effective marketing of their actions. We utilized a dataset of 242 IS propaganda videos in order to examine how the Islamic State employed visual propaganda to enhance the effectiveness of a low-cost, high-impact terrorist campaign, by reconstructing the theater of terror. Our findings illustrate the positive relationship between the IS territorial control and the quality of its media production, thus the IS uses propaganda to develop a relatively low-cost avenue to global media attention. Prior acts of terrorism were risky, high cost, and required news media to cover the incidents. For IS, a steady stream of battle imagery allowed it to develop highly efficient low-cost propaganda. Additionally, we identified associations between the video’s thematic components, including between level of depicted violence and the tendency of the videos to be critical or to include religious symbols, as well as their production value. It reflects the importance that terrorist groups place in maximizing the symbolic impact of their violent videos which intend to depict their military capabilities, and capacity to retaliate against their enemies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalSmall Wars and Insurgencies
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, © 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Terrorism
  • media
  • political communication
  • political violence
  • propaganda

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations


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