Purported ISIS Video Raises Questions About Authenticity

Jan 24, 2015 at 6:28 PM ET

A second video emerged on Saturday that purports to confirm the death of Japanese hostage Haruna Yukawa and offers a bargain to save his compatriot Kenji Goto. The Japanese government has said it is working to confirm the authenticity of the video, which calls for the release of a female suicide bomber held in Jordan. Goto’s life, the video says, would be spared in exchange for her release.

Many aspects of the video’s appearance, however, raise questions about its trustworthiness. The discussion centers around the context of how it was published, and raises reasonable questions as to whether or not it is an Islamic State video at all.

Where’s the Branding and Design?

Islamic State propaganda materials have shown remarkable consistency in terms of their use of logos and visual cues. In all recent propaganda videos, the logo of Al-Furqan, the official Islamic State media wing, has been displayed in one of the upper corners of the screen. Furqan is not even mentioned in this video, which is rare. Additionally, videos are typically described as “Al-Furqan media wing new release” or “Furqan presents,” which doesn’t happen in this video. Nor is anyone using the Furqan hashtag to distribute. All of this is quite unusual.

No Islamic References?

Most propaganda videos from the Islamic State apparatus contain quotes from Quranic scripture or Islamic nasheeds (religious music) as part of their production. This video only uses a long quote in English, purportedly from the hostage.

Where’s the Promotion?

ISIS forums always promote the group’s new propaganda releases heavily, using banner images and splashy titles. The previous video, showing both the Japanese captives, was entitled “A Message to the People And Government of Japan.” This video has no title. A typical title for this video would have been “A Second Message to the People and Government of Japan.” It doesn’t appear on the index (front) page of ALPlatform—one of the major online jihadi forums—where the Islamic State tends to promote its newest media. When videos appear there, they tend to be part of an organized drive to send them viral, providing users with suggested hashtags to inject them into online conversations, as well as multiple options for downloading the video from mirror sites. None of that occurred with this video.

Where’s the Effort?

By ISIS standards, the production of this video is unusually poor. ISIS has displayed dramatically improved production capabilities over time, and the group has been openly recruiting for people to help with media production for its propaganda efforts, to boost its capacity in videography and motion graphics.

To publish a video containing a still shot against a plain white background with a voiceover is a massive regression for the group. Even the first episode of the web series narrated by captive John Cantlie was shot cleanly against a black background. To forgo using a live captive subject, or a live ISIS spokesman, is extremely odd.

Where’s the Chatter?

Usually when the Islamic State releases its more significant publications, they remain as the center of chatter for days, posted repetitively and boosted by ISIS’ own dissemination guidelines on which hashtags to use on Twitter, among other strategies. While a few influential major accounts have mentioned it, chatter from major ISIS sources on this video has died back to everyday levels, with people talking about mundane propaganda (ISIS rebuilding roads, propaganda against the Gulf states, etc.).

What’s With the Odd Forum Behavior?

Messages mentioning the video have been deleted from ISIS forums, which almost never happens. For it not to have appeared on the forum in any official sense at all is highly unusual.

The video remains in a gray area of confirmation. There are as many consistencies as there are inconsistencies, and drawing conclusions about a shifting, erratic mercenary group is somewhat reckless. While the White House has reacted to the video as if it and Yukawa’s death were confirmed, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that ISIS remains a ruthless group willing to buy, take, use and kill captives for sheer PR value. That’s 100 percent verified.