Small Wars Journal

Terrorism and Technology: The Front End

Share this Post

Terrorism and Technology: The Front End

Mark D. Robinson and Cori E. Dauber

Despite the fact that there is a robust conversation regarding “terrorism and technology,” that discussion is – as near as we can tell – uniformly about the back end, that is to say exclusively addressing the dissemination of what terrorists have already produced. We have found virtually nothing in the popular press[i] and nothing at all in the academic literature about the technology involved in the production of the materials that are being distributed.[ii] But the technologies available to support content production have changed dramatically in the last few years, and those changes have had major consequences, not only for terrorist groups’ ability to distribute materials, but also for the propaganda quality, and indeed for the very nature of these materials. Yet the literature presumes that the propaganda terrorists post to social media is of some consequence, otherwise there would be no reason to discuss the material.

Likewise, this assumption drives the search for appropriate government or inter-governmental responses to the problem.

Online radicalization is widely regarded as one of today’s most pressing security challenges. Core European institutions, including the Council of Europe, the European Commission, EUROPOL, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, have emphasized its importance.  These warnings have been echoed by other International Governmental Organizations -- the UN’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, for example, states that the “manipulative messages of violent extremists on social media have achieved considerable success in luring people, especially young women and men, into their ranks” -- and by national governments. The UK’s Home Affairs Committee has described the use of the internet to promote radicalization and terrorism as “one of the greatest threats that countries including the UK face,” whilst the 2015 White House Summit -- attended by Ministers from nearly 70 countries worldwide -- underscored the need to intensify efforts to counter recruitment and radicalization to terrorist violence.[iii]

We are hardly technological determinists, still, it is the case that the content of this propaganda, completely apart from the social media platforms used to distribute it, has been enormously impacted by recent (and ongoing) changes in technology. This paper unpacks how available technologies influence jihadist propaganda product and how changes in these technologies can be seen in the materials being posted today.[iv]

Not quite a decade ago, one of us first wrote about the challenges presented by terrorist and insurgent groups’ capitalizing on the opportunity presented by the fact that new communication and information technologies could function synergistically: nothing less than the weaponization of the web was being made possible.[v] Today we are in a moment that provides an exact parallel, and that is not actually surprising.

At a time just after HD cameras were made available and affordable to the semi-professional and consumer markets, approximately 2005, an inverse relationship between price and quality became the norm, from entry point to high quality acquisition technologies, (in this context that refers to technologies used to acquire raw materials, as in video.) This is a recognizable pattern in technology economics where prices respond to new innovations and entry-level equipment quality significantly increases while prices become affordable.[vi] Prior to this acceleration in technological developments, access to innovations was the basis for class distinctions. Innovative technologies start as being priced far out of reach of most consumers, sometimes at prices so high that their acquisition in itself offers a way of demonstrating or signaling great personal wealth, but becoming more or less rapidly something that the average consumer can afford. What starts as a luxury item becomes a consumer item or even an item seen as a basic utility in the case of cell phones. The first cell phone, after all, was sold in 1984 for $3,995.00, weighed 28 ounces, was 13 inches long – and when fully charged provided all of thirty minutes battery time. Given the easy availability of pay phones (charging only a dime) it’s not hard to understand why this Motorola was considered “a gimmick, a ‘look what I got!’ rich man’s toy with dubious utility.”[vii]

Before equipment prices fall to such a level that a given technology becomes basically ubiquitous, the simple use of a given technology might be a distinction that can be used to clearly separate the products of one group from another – so one might have said, here are groups that are shooting in high definition, here are groups that are not, and the sharpness of the images would have been a clear and distinct dividing line. When terrorist groups were just starting to integrate SD video into their content, the original Al Queda was about the only group to use computer generated animations. Currently, these technologies are so widely available it only becomes noticeable if for some reason a group is not shooting in high definition or using animation in their introductions. When the same technology is available to everyone, the playing field (or, in the case of media, the work flow) becomes level. At that point, because the differences in technology use are more granular, it is production traits such as skill, planning, creativity, and craft that will separate one piece of work from another. That is to say, when everyone is using computer generated animations, their presence alone is no longer what separates one groups, and at that point distinctions have to be made based on the level of craft reflected in those animations.

Around 2013-2015 – not by coincidence, just about the time the Caliphate was being declared, and Islamic State propaganda was reaching a peak, both in terms of quantity and quality – there was a global shift in the processor market. Cell phones became both affordable and powerful enough to be used as a primary computer, a democratization of access to both processing and information.[viii] Computer chips, CPUs, began to fall in price, in part because processing speed and power had hit a plateau, where differences in chip specifications were not as significant as they had been in prior years. Thus, costs leveled off, while the quality and accessibility of the devices using those CPUs, such as cell phones and computers, remained operationally significant. Lower prices for any devices dependent upon CPU chips meant that globally both personal computers and video production equipment prices were moving towards more affordable levels.[ix]

In addition, by 2015 an increase in Cloud computing along with the global proliferation of cell phones (really, at this point, smartphones) meant fewer dedicated computer workstations were fixed to any one geographic location. Instead, there was a more mobile, global, accessible, media consumption and production method (using both smartphone and laptop.) The result of this democratization of access was the creation of an abundance of media for consumers to watch, and an abundance of opportunities for consumers to make their own media. And, given the global demand for media and technology, production methods became streamlined and efficient. The availability of inexpensive – yet semi-professional in quality – media making equipment, from cameras to phones to computers, meant everyone, terrorists included, could now be “in the game” as the production process itself became accessible.

In fact, by 2015 Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel but most famous for 1965’s “Moore’s Law” which stated the number of transistors on a chip would double every 18 months, affirmed that the assumptions that drove that “Law” were in fact reaching an end.[x] By 2016 there were so many new and innovative technologies in their infancy, but not yet in mass production, that the CPU stabilization held, and held for long enough for culture to catch up. A critical mass of people was now working with processors fast enough to enable high-end video, graphics, and audio. Quality and affordability of equipment already on the market held, for a moment relieving the pressure on the consumer of the “buy today, useless tomorrow” variety, (with the new, newer, newest constantly driving prices up.) Instead you could buy – and keep for a few years.

The significance for our purposes is that during this period where computer and CPU prices stabilized,[xi] enough time passed that the market, the users, the makers, caught up, and perfected skills -- which rapidly became standards of measure. This time frame coincided with the rise of ISIS and then IS, and thus permitted access to production technologies that allowed the advancement of the quality of rhetorical argumentation in propaganda itself.

Still, because any group might be able to access the same technologies doesn’t mean they are all accessing the same technologies or that they know what to do with the ones available to them. That makes this the perfect time to stop and take stock of what kinds of technologies have been integrated into terrorist production over the last decade.

Digital Imagery

Visuals

What is it that groups with high quality materials have taken advantage of, in terms of technology, to make their materials relatively high quality? Visuals typically, and particularly when being used in service to propaganda, boil down to storytelling, and for our purposes specifically, how well a story is told. Quality assessment, the means of determining when a story has been told effectively, looks at technique, craft, tools, method, form, poetics of representation, continuity and so forth, all of which are reflected in the evaluative method for extremist propaganda recently introduced by Robinson and Dauber.[xii] When placed in unique combinations it is these elements that yield the style and narrative form that contribute to a story’s effectiveness. In effect, the art and science of filmmaking collaborate to produce a gestalt, the entire piece working together in unity to produce a singular object, “the film.”[xiii] Technology informs the possibilities of both technique and craft, or, the ability to argue a story with rhetorical precision, defining the limits of what is possible. Should either the craft or technique of the maker fail, the available technology defines the potential of the argument. The audience will then be forced to reconcile the discontinuity between what is potential and what is actual. The problem is that doing so pulls the viewer out of the story, since at that moment their assessment shifts to a critique of the way technology has been used, rather than a gestalt of the film.

Professional level cameras are now affordable at entry-level prices. “Professional” certainly does not imply what one would find on a Hollywood set by any means – it is still the case that at tens of thousands of dollars those cameras remain out of reach for even the most committed amateur. What has changed is the quality of equipment that amateur can find within reach of their budget, and the results they can reasonably get from that equipment. Today a DSLR high definition video camera can be purchased for under $1,500. Other technologies reflect the same ease of acquisition. For example, image stabilization matters to the end product because it produces a less subjective camera position. In recent years not only has affordable hardware made huge leaps in terms of what’s possible when it comes to image stabilization (and resolution), but the software, actually integrated into cameras as well as in editing software, assists in stabilizing shots made with HD video cameras. Other technologies have recently made possible the same shots as before, but for much less money, meaning that shots previously possible only for Hollywood professionals are now available to amateurs if they know what they are doing. Drones with stabilization software have replaced putting a cameraman into a helicopter, obviously an enormously expensive proposition. And gimbaled devices, a form of image stabilization hardware, are available to the consumer as well; neither costs more than several hundred dollars and they offer the same options as equipment running well into the thousands. They can offer a similar visual element, for example, ways of making that are inexpensive alternatives to the “Steadi-Cam” of Hollywood, which requires special training and a unique skill set, not to mention expensive hardware.

On the software end, the leveling of the marketplace has meant chips capable of handling the data size and rate necessary for editing any video or audio are easily and affordably available. It was not that long ago that it would have cost $40,000 to $50,000 to purchase dedicated editing hardware.[xiv] Now, spend a few hundred dollars on software, a thousand more for the camera, and its possible to produce comparable results. It’s possible to do it for nothing if you’re willing to accept somewhat lower quality results.

How can we tell with confidence that any of this is the case?

It is important to mention at this point that no Salafist-jihadist materials that we have ever seen have been produced on actual film, meaning the old-school material (celluloid) used for photo-chemical production, that which comes in strips with sprocket holes on the side and is stored in canisters. That might seem to be an incredibly minor point of interest to no one but a media specialist, but it does have implications relevant to the persuasive possibilities of what terrorists are producing and to understanding how changes in technologies have impacted their capacities to produce propaganda in the last few years, as well as to the way we interpret what they have produced. Materials produced on film have a texture, given its fine grain. We mean by this that everything is crisp and relative, that depth, for example, is conveyed accurately. Scenes shot with VHS were hard to light because contrast was compromised, and as a result VHS seemed to flatten the scene, as did digital early on.[xv] (Consider the early videos produced by the Chechens, such as “Russian Hell 2000,” which Anne Stenersen has written about.[xvi])

DV (not HDV) was used by AQ, early on. Although digital, the resolution and contrast were low enough that when watched the viewer did not transcend the material itself. One saw the noise, the unwanted signal, merged with the wanted, which was also true for analog formats such as VHS. Video shot on these inferior quality formats were recorded on a device which had intrinsic, indeed self-evident, quality issues. In media production this is akin to having a “noise floor.” The effect was to flatten or render or reduce the image to the grain, to the noise, to the medium, itself resulting in a gross categorization lacking specifics of the story – the meaning.  When HD emerged, the resolution increased and began to approach that of film, and that permitted the audience to enter the dimensionality of the image and story, free to enjoy it rather than constantly being pulled out of the flow of the narrative to do the work of reconciling the subject to the noise. In turn, this effect aids in the construction of work that appears more carefully shot or produced, simply by virtue of the fact that the story appears more clearly.

Viewers are only just now emerging from the HD YouTube standard and beginning to return to and reapply many older standards of story and image to the new HD videos. The HD YouTube standard ignored any sense of formalist techniques, and often excluded even a storyline.[xvii] It is summed up by saying anyone, regardless of their background in production (or lack thereof) could post on YouTube, could create a channel yet needed to provide no discernable story, nor display any production skills whatsoever. This, of course, is the essence of the cat video. The production standards for YouTube were completely laissez-faire. Hollywood production standards are not necessarily found in a manual, but rules of engagement with the audience were laid forth, developed over a period of years as film was first being developed and no one actually knew what would or would not work with audiences’ eyes and brains. There was a Hollywood Production Code that outlined “moral values” movies were expected to comply with, but that is not what we refer to here. Rather we are thinking of such standards as the 180-degree rule, cut on action, shot-reverse-shot, the rule of thirds, transitions, high key lighting, and eye-line match. These are enforced by peer pressure – and audience response – and have been established over a long period of time and after much experimentation. Berliner and Cohen write, regarding classic Hollywood,

The sights and sounds presented in the cinema have the potential to stimulate the visual and auditory receptor cells in ways that are similar enough to those experienced in the physical world that, under specified circumstances, many of our perceptual processes do not distinguish between stimuli generated by the cinema and those generated by physical environments. When organized according to the principles of classical continuity editing, the cinema stimulates a series of cognitive processes that construct a coherent model of on-screen space . . . . the very same cognitive processes that generate coherence for spectators in the physical world.[xviii]

They refer to this as “the Matrix scenario” – this would include such parameters as presenting images at 24 frames per second or above, the range within which the human eye and brain process what is being seen as moving images.[xix] At that speed it becomes impossible to see film as a series of rapidly changing stills.[xx] These old Hollywood parameters represent a core of methods honed to permit makers to exploit the potential of the medium for storytelling through both audio and visual means. These are tried and true techniques that make it possible for the maker to imbue meaning into the scenes they touch. Terrorists are aggressively moving to close the gaps, using current innovations in technology, at the same time they are closing the gaps regarding story: thus they are utilizing hardware and software in service to higher quality propaganda. They do not actually need to be cognizant of the fact that this is what they are doing, they are closing these gaps because theirs is a generation that is defined by closing gaps – or perhaps by not knowing the gaps are there. They are closing the gaps of quality difference. Gaps in communication, both in terms of method and relative to technology. Gaps in the market from production to release and dissemination. Gaps in technology and in application, both by operating and by defining the middle ground between professional (Hollywood) and consumer (what Uncle Jimmy produces when he picks up a camera for the first time.)

The propaganda of the Islamic State adheres to many of the standard rules of production, whether they did so because they had people who had been educated in some way, or whether they fell into them by accident. The Islamic State began producing videos at the perfect time where affordability of professional HD grade equipment synergized with the venues of YouTube and social media, with internet-enabled cell phones and the global duplication and spread of Hollywood movies (viewable on those phones) and thus the propagation of industry standards laid out in full global public view. This moment involved a migration from the “anyone can shoot” of early YouTube to specialized channels and streaming media. Thus, yes, anyone can shoot, but there still are only a limited number of those who can produce content of cultural value of high enough production quality to allow for the suspension of disbelief and transcendence of the media to put story itself front and center.

Most are familiar with the term “suspension of disbelief.” This refers to the audiences’ ability to immerse so completely in the narrative that they are able to forget their own knowledge that what they are being pulled into is a fictional, made-up story, place, and characters. But that idea is somewhat limited because of its close connection to fictional (primarily commercial) narratives. Media theorists have added the concept of the “suspension of belief” to describe the audiences’ immersion in what they were watching and hearing in non-fictional contexts to the point that they forgot what they knew to be fact: that they were not actually seeing the events unfolding in front of them, but were watching multiple still images, reproduced on a computer or movie screen, the construct of technique and technology.

The immediacy of the medium of video online provides a timely claim to notoriety, the declaration of the terror event, and also accelerates the critique feedback thus shortening the time for experiential evolution as well as that of technique, craft, and production. And that is why statements such as “All research into terrorist use of technology can be summarized in exactly one sentence: They use the same tech as every one else. Where do I line up for my grant money?”[xxi] are long on snark but short on understanding, at least when it comes to the technology of media production.

In the early work of a group like Al Queda in the Arabian Peninsula on the other hand, the quality difference between their work and that of IS can still be seen. Production, style, craft, and story, all remained weak, where the story or subject to object relationship simplified down to a 1:1 relationship, such as a truck exploding in the distance as an IED went off. The lack of development in character, story, or production meant that nothing was asked of the audience other than drawing the simplest of conclusions, offering no complexity, no opportunity for extrapolation, and no rhetorical sophistication.

There is nothing more to it, on an emotional level, than if someone simply recounted the event, no emotive value is gained from any of the rules of composition or editing that Eisenstein professed.[xxii] New events are consistently shaped into just a single narrative, delivered to a very closed audience, so that only those interested in that one event will watch, which limits their audience to a pre-existing ideological community for all intents and purposes.

Islamic State, on the other hand, by virtue of the more complex structure of their shooting, representative of a more complex thought process, was able to present more narratives, open to more audiences. In turn, that meant they were forced to adhere to higher standards, because their audience was larger. This is circular: their higher standards meant a larger audience could appreciate their materials, and that made it necessary for them to continue to produce at a high level, because they were now trying to sustain the interest of audiences who had been drawn to their product for any number of reasons. AQAP did not need to do that because of that 1:1 visual vocabulary: they were filming strictly in the visual language or vernacular of the documentary or news, at least in their early work.

Graphics

Graphics refers to text or other forms of imagery that are not produced by in some way filming reality (live action) but instead from rendered, animated, or CGI techniques. For example, video graphics may appear as the two- and three-dimensional animations that comprise a video introduction or a logo. In jihadist propaganda videos they are particularly seen in animated logos, which give the credit for the piece to a specific group, but given the software available today, which can be mastered without special training, the text or logo may appear to rotate, to transform from logo to flag and back again and so forth. Two and three-dimensional rendered footage can create an entire scene, a fabrication rather than one shot in reality (that is, in live action.) A prime example would be the Eiffel tower falling on its side after a bomb explodes, a CGI scene that was lifted from the American popular film GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra for the Islamic State video “celebrating” the Paris attacks of November 2015. Although that example deals with so-called “found footage,” (meaning the group who used it was not the group who made it) their employment of that footage was extremely savvy. It reflected a recognition of how its use would enhance the terror story, as does the editing effort expended in order to make the clip appear more seamless within the storyline. That intent is synonymous with an effort in crafting a more impactful audio-visual argument.

Conclusion

What is it that the groups whose materials are weak are missing?

It is not technology alone (fairly high-end materials in this day and age can be shot and edited on cell phones if that is all you have) which is why we say we are not technological determinists: it is the way technology is used. It is method, the way they shoot. At the end of the day, early AQAP did not understand how to tell a story: Islamic State understands people need a story, they understand how to produce stories, and so that is what they produce. In production the use of all technology is supposed to facilitate one thing, storytelling. The more you use all those resources to your advantage, the more information you convey, the richer your story.

We are claiming that many other issues besides technology go into the evolution of persuasive power, the making of rhetorically sophisticated propaganda – story, method, editing craft, and so forth. Technology is a tool, not a determinative factor. If we were determinists, we would argue that a new piece of technology determines what will be made or even can and cannot be made. The technology might be a factor in terms of characteristics of the video, but it does not directly control the storyline. But technology creates options that were not there before and understanding what has changed in jihadist propaganda over the last ten to 15 years requires understanding the way technology has changed the options available to their makers.[xxiii]

End Notes


[i] The rare exception would include Greg Miller and Souad Mekhennet, “Inside the surreal world of the Islamic State’s propaganda machine,” Washington Post, November 20, 2015 https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/inside-the-islamic-states-propaganda-machine/2015/11/20/051e997a-8ce6-11e5-acff-673ae92ddd2b_story.html?utm_term=.e18fa11d392a. As near as we can tell this is the singular citation used by everyone working in this area.

[ii] We distinguish the technology being used from the processes of production, although there is precious little available about that either. For important exceptions see Asaad Almohammad and Charlie Winter, “From Directorate of Intelligence to Directorate of Everything: The Islamic State’s Emergent Amni-Media Nexus,” Perspectives on Terrorism 13, no. 1 (February 2019): 40-52 https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/binaries/content/assets/customsites/perspectives-on-terrorism/2019/issue-1/almohammed-and-winter.pdf or Daniel Milton, Pulling Back the Curtain: An Inside Look At the Islamic State’s Media Organization (Combating Terrorism Center at West Point: August, 2018) https://ctc.usma.edu/app/uploads/2018/08/Pulling-Back-the-Curtain.pdf which includes a number of documents from IS itself and finally Assad Almohammad and Charlie Winter, From Battlefront to Cyberspace: Demystifying the Islamic State’s Propaganda Machine (United States Military Academy: Combating Terrorism Center, June 2019) https://ctc.usma.edu/app/uploads/2019/05/Battlefront-to-Cyberspace.pdf . But much of the discussion here has to do with the efforts undertaken by IS production regarding security. For example, Almohammad and Winter, From Battlefront to Cyberspace, p. 15: “The Bank was authorized to reject materials that did not meet the Media Judiciary Committee’s minimum production standards. To this effect, it was charged both with omitting operationally sensitive materials and ensuring that the materials satisfy or surpass the least acceptable production quality.” But our interest, of course, would be in the question of what those “acceptable” standards were, who determined them, how they were met and assessed.

[iii] Stuart Macdonald, “Tackling Terrorist Content on Social Media,” Global-E, 11, 32 (June 14, 2018) https://www.21global.ucsb.edu/global-e/june-2018/tackling-terrorist-content-social-media

[iv] They will, of course, influence what the right wing groups will be able to do, but the right wing groups, as near as we can tell, are lagging years behind the jihadist, so the limits of what technology will allow just is not their problem at the moment.

[v] Dauber was referring at the time to the combination of the laptop, the then stand-alone digital camera, and software that permitted the editing and manipulation of images. See You Tube War: Fighting in a World of Cameras in Every Cell Phone, Photoshop on Every Computer (Carlisle, Pa.: Strategic Studies Institute Monograph Series, 2010) https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/display.cfm?pubID=951.

[vi] For an understandable summary of the relevant literature, see Nathan Rosenberg, Inside the Black Box: Technology and Economics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004 ed.): 3-26.

[vii] Stewart Wolpin, “The First Cellphone Went on Sale Thirty Years Ago for $4,000,” Mashable, March 13, 2004 https://mashable.com/2014/03/13/first-cellphone-on-sale/#.3egNhCM3sqg. By 2018, in contrast, 95% of Americans owned a cellphone of some variety, and 77% of those were a smartphone. “Mobile Fact Sheet,” Pew Research Center: Internet and Technology,” February 5, 2018 http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/mobile/.

[viii] Christina Bonnington, “In Less Than Two Years, A Smartphone Could Be Your Only Computer,” Wired, February 2, 2015 https://www.wired.com/2015/02/smartphone-only-computer/

[ix] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Long-term price trends for computers, TVs, and related items,” TED: The Economics Daily, October 13, 2015 https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2015/long-term-price-trends-for-computers-tvs-and-related-items.htm

[x] Rachael Courtland, “Gordon Moore: The Man Whose Name Means Progress,” March 30, 2015 IEEE Spectrum https://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/hardware/gordon-moore-the-man-whose-name-means-progress

[xi] Nathan Myhrvold, “Moore’s Law Corollary: Pixel Power,” New York Times, June 7, 2008 https://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/07/technology/circuits/07essay.html

[xii] Mark D. Robinson and Cori E. Dauber, “Grading the Quality of ISIS Videos: A Metric For Assessing the Technical Sophistication of Digital Video Propaganda,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 42, no. 1-2 (2019): 70-87 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1057610X.2018.1513693.

[xiii] For media and film, we would point out, these are fairly basic concepts. It was Wertheimer and Kohler who originally applied the gestalt theory of psychology to film and design, yielding many of today’s conventions (continuity, composition, design principles, figure ground relationships and so forth.) When you break any one element you expose the whole as not being in gestalt – it is gestalt that directly informs belief. See Max Wertheimer et al, On Perceived Motion and Figural Organization (Cambridge, MA.: The MIT Press, 2012), or see Michael Wertheimer ed., Productive Thinking (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1959.)

[xiv] “Jump ahead to today and we’ve taken another decimal point off the cost. In fact with many flavors of DV and with file-based rather than with tape-based cameras, functional NLE systems can be assembled in the low thousands of dollars. To simply, if twenty years the cost of being in the video editing business has gone from $400,000 to $20,000 to $2,000, or one half of one percent of what it used to cost . . . that 1990s facility was SD and 2010’s NLE, with the right storage, is likely capable of glorious high definition.” Nick Griffin, “Media 100 Steps Out with Suite 1.5,” Media 100, n.d. https://library.creativecow.net/article.php?author_folder=griffin_nick&article_folder=suite-review&page=1

[xv] There are two types of photoreceptors in the human eye used to interpret images: rods and cones. Rods react to contrast, and cones to both color and contrast. When recording and compressing images digitally, color is usually sacrificed to save data (and thus space) since we have far more sensors for contrast than for color. The contrast informs the brain regarding the sharpness of the image. As for color, conveying that a “red” dress is a specific Pantone reference red is often not important, just that it is a shade of red. But, it is important to know where the red dress is and where it is not – the precise outlines of the dress in the image or image sequence. VHS did a poor job of harvesting contrast information. Thus, objects appeared less defined than if they had been shot in film or contemporary CCD by comparison.

[xvi] Anne Stenersen, “A History of Jihadi Cinematography,” in Thomas Hegghammer, ed., Jihadi Culture: The Art and Social Practices of Militant Islamists (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017): 113.

[xvii] For a discussion of these types of YouTube productions, and some of their implications, see Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York, New York: New York University Press, 2008 ed.)

[xviii] Todd Berliner and Dale J. Cohen, “The Illusion of Continuity: Active Perception and the Classical Editing System,” Journal of Film and Video,” 63 (1) Spring 2011: 44.

[xix] In fact it was gestalt theory that led to the tests that determined the “magic number” for the persistence of vision – the point at which there was a seamless sense of motion. For discussions of how these numbers were achieved, see Ed S. Tan, “A psychology of film,” Palgrave Communications 4, no. 82 (2018): https://www.nature.com/articles/s41599-018-0111-y or Johann Wagemans et al, “A Century of Gestalt Psychology in Visual Perceptions: I: Perceptual Grouping and Figure-Ground Organization,” Psychological Bulletin 138, no. 6 (2012): 1172-1217 https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fa0029333.

[xx] This, more than anything else, is what drove the power of the recent Peter Jackson documentary, “They Shall Not Grow Old” – the World War I footage was shot in different frame rates, but ranged from 10-16 fps, which is why footage of that era appears jerky and unrealistic. Using a variety of techniques Jackson’s team was able to transfer the older footage to 24 fps, which smoothed it out and made it look realistic, in other words, tricked audiences’ brains into seeing the footage as moving images rather than as rapidly moving stills. See “Peter Jackson Film Uses Innovative Film Restoration to Restore Firsthand Accounts From World War One,” Cinnafilm, December 17, 2018 https://cinnafilm.com/peter-jackson-documentary-uses-innovative-film-restoration-to-empower-firsthand-accounts-from-world-war-one/.

[xxi] Christopher Wright, @wrightapsu, Tweet, May 15, 2019, 1:19 pm.

[xxii] For more on this see Robert Robertson, Eisenstein on the Audiovisual: The Montage of Music, Image, and Sound in Cinema (London, UK: I.B. Tauris & Co., 2009.)

[xxiii] Industrial Light and Magic has repeatedly changed the stories that can be told by filmmakers: if you don’t understand the capacities of the technology you can’t understand what makes the films possible. Jason Michelitch, “Star Wars Revolutionized Special Effects Twice; Can It Do It Again?” Wired, February 12, 2013 https://www.wired.com/2013/02/star-wars-fx/

About the Author(s)

Cori E. Dauber (Twitter: @CoriDauber) is a Professor of Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill. She has been a Visiting Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College.

Mark D. Robinson is Director of the Media Lab at UNC-Chapel Hill. He is the author, with Cori Dauber, of ““Grading the Quality of ISIS Videos: A Metric For Assessing the Technical Sophistication of Digital Video Propaganda,” in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism.