Militant Children on Social Media: “Cubs of the Caliphate” and “Taliban’s Soldiers of God”

By Weeda Mehran
Submitted to Session P4892 (Children, Youth, and Media in Middle Eastern Conflict Zones, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
All Middle East;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
In 2015, the footage of a young Kazak boy with short black hair, executing two Russian men with a pistol held in both hands went viral Online. Using children for various military strategies is not novel. Throughout history and across different cultures children were used as spies, informants, and soldiers and for various propaganda purposes. Not much has changed with the passage of time. The use of children by terrorist groups such as ISIS and the Taliban is a modern day continuation of these trends. ISIS has been training children at an industrial scale referring to them as “the Cubs of the Caliphate”, while the Taliban have frequently recruited children for suicide missions. This paper investigates why children’s images are used on social media, namely on Facebook and YouTube by the Taliban and ISIS. The research draws upon images and videos of children circulated across 65 Facebook accounts of a group of Taliban supporters (mainly aimed at an Afghan audience), and approximately 56 videos and images of Middle Eastern caliphate child soldiers posted on YouTube. In addition to performing a content analysis of these images and videos, this paper also analyses reactions of viewers (i.e. comments, likes and shares). The findings show that the choice by terrorists to depict children as followers and fighters serves terrorists several purposes: (1) these images and videos project to their audiences a trajectory of fear that will continue to exist for a long period of time. The message clearly indicates a “new” generation of terrorists to fear. (2) A photo of a child while engaging in violent acts can intensify terror and fear among its viewers since it disrupts the commonly perceived image of children associated with “innocence”, and “purity”. (3) This is an effective recruitment strategy because it gives positive publicity to terrorist groups’ call for jihad among their followers. This publicity would seem to work because children’s “purity” can be projected on to jihad missions to help present the missions as “pure” and “uncorrupted”.