Terrorists' Strategies in the 21st Century: “Don’t hear about us, hear from us.”
The propaganda videos of ISIL became a widespread issue throughout the Western world between 2014 and 2017. That was not because those videos went viral on social media, but mainly because “the world learned almost instantly about the executions via the traditional mass media that in ever more ‘breaking news’ versions aired alarming details of the unspeakably cruel acts” (Nacos, 2016: 28). In democratic societies, the media still plays an important role in the dissemination of information and in the formation of public opinion—both online and print (Van Leuven & Slater, 1991; McCombs, 2014). Especially with regards to terrorism, journalists often send strategic communicator frame (SCF)—albeit inadvertently—and therefore are still a relevant part of the terrorists' strategies.
Terrorism can be understood as a communication strategy and the media not only provides attention it also disseminates the messages of terrorist organizations, thereby spreading fear (Waldmann, 2011, p. 14-16; Spencer, 2012, p. 6). This is also the reason the role of the media in reporting on terrorism has long been subject of controversy (Clutterbuck, 1981; Howe & Bowe, 2018; Miller, 1982; Papacharissi & De Fatima Oliveira, 2008; Powell, 2011; Powell, 2018; Schmid & De Graaf, 1982; Wieviorka, 1993; Wilkinson, 1997).
The media faces a dilemma when it comes to reporting on terrorism: on the one hand, they have to fulfil their duty to provide information and report on terrorist acts; on the other hand, by doing so it is very easy to disseminate communicator frames. When that happens, their reach and significance in society increases (Meckel, 2008, p. 251; Wilkinson, 1997, p. 52). Therefore, normatively speaking, the media bears a special responsibility to counter terrorist propaganda rather than inadvertently distributing it and creating fear (Bonfadelli, 2002, pp. 114–115). In the years between 2014 and 2016 each video posted on social media evoked some media reaction and the public attention was mostly created through the media (Nesser, 2018; Oswald & Johann, 2016). This is an indication that journalists still play an important role in the terrorist’s strategy. But more than that, since a common framing-effect leads people to think in frames that were offered to them (Brewer, 2001; Marx & Schumacher, 2016), journalists might pick up frames and send them in their reporting (Brüggemann, 2014). After all, “journalists […] produce media texts that include certain frames and neglect others. According to the model advanced here, journalistic framing practices lie on a continuum between frame setting and frame sending” (Brüggemann, 2014, p. 64). In this regard, journalists could be a much more important tool in terrorism than the attention-providing-hypothesis might attribute to them—especially with the new means of communication aquired by terrorist groups. Therefore, the question if "the German media fulfill a crucial part in the terrorist logic and its inherent communication strategy by sending specific communicator frames in the public" seems quite relevant and this paper will provide an analysis of how political violence achieves a means through the media.