Social media makes ISIS more credible, bigger threat

Last Tuesday, Kayla Mueller, the last known American hostage of ISIS, was killed. ISIS claimed that she was killed by a collapsing building after a Jordanian air strike. Coincidentally, ISIS also claims that no militants within its ranks were killed.

ISIS has little interest in fighting America. It is more focused on physical battles with Bashar al Assad and other figures in the Middle East who ISIS considers apostates for not adhering to its particular set of views.

However, ISIS does need support in the hearts and minds of people in its region. It is extremely difficult to change the religious structure of a region while burdened by the unpopularity that comes with conquering land, displacing thousands of people, and miscellaneous atrocities. The easiest way for a group to regain popularity is to define itself in opposition to an even less popular group. In this case, ISIS has identified the United States government as its target.

This is where the story of Mueller becomes troubling. ISIS’s account of her death is hard to believe. They claimed she was the sole occupant of a three-story weapons warehouse. ISIS is not stupid; they almost certainly would not allow a hostage into a weapons warehouse unsupervised.

However, much of the discourse surrounding this story seems to implicate Jordan, not ISIS, in the death of Mueller. ISIS has crafted a media image for itself so powerful that it controls its own narrative. This should not be possible for one of the world’s most hated political entities.

Much of this stems from ISIS posting unedited video of their brutal exploits, including vicious executions. These gave ISIS’s internet persona an air of honesty. This extends into ISIS’s interactions with Mueller, as the publicly-released parts of its correspondence with her family were disarmingly cordial. ISIS claimed its members treated Mueller as a guest rather than a hostage.

Still, it is dangerous to give much weight to a single organization’s claims. ISIS needs to withstand a much more critical lens than they are currently being subjected to by American and international media.