In a statement issued by the Ministry of Communication, spokesperson Amir Khader al-Bayati said that a huge percentage of the current battle for Iraq depended on how it was covered in the media.
It’s been well acknowledged that ISIS use social networking sites to intimidate their opposition and to recruit new members. A few weeks before their attack on Mosul, ISIS had published the fourth part of a documentary called Salil Sawarem, or the Clanking of the Swords, showing how they acted against their enemies around the country.
“The Al Furqan foundation, along with hundreds of its affiliated websites and forums, promoted part three and part four of the film in early June,” says Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi expert on Islamic groups. “ISIS’ electronic army posted it on every kind of social media. It is a terrifying film and its producers are clearly proficient in the art of psychological warfare.”
Al-Hashimi says he feels sure that many Iraqi soldiers have watched this film, which is filled with horrific executions of people ISIS sees as traitors, such a soldiers, and demonstrations of the organisation’s power.
And this is why, the Ministry of Communication statement said, “it is very important to block social networking sites, in order to reduce their negative impact on national security”. The statement concluded that social media was often blocked in countries where there had been a crisis or a disaster.
Social media sites would still be freely available during working hours and the Internet would always be available, the Ministry said. In reality though, Internet and social media users in Baghdad reported that sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were unavailable and that Internet services were very weak and often disrupted.
It seems that concerns about the negative impacts of the information being posted by ISIS outweighed any fears about freedom of the press or the public’s right to information.
“Blocking the Internet tarnishes the reputation of the modern state of Iraq,” says Ziyad al-Ujaili, who heads Iraq’s Press Freedom Observatory. “The Iraqi state should maintain the free flow of information across all methods of communication.”
In fact, al-Ujaili believes that doing things like blocking social media and cutting off the Internet just makes groups like ISIS seem more important and the information they broadcast seem more valid, no matter how untrustworthy it is.