SHARE
COPY LINK
PRESENTED BY MALMÖ UNIVERSITY

Media activism at Malmö: Why we should study Isis

The face of communication and the media is forever changing, and, as it does, unchartered and often darker channels open up – areas which need to be fully understood before they are challenged.

Media activism at Malmö: Why we should study Isis
Lecturer Michael Krona. Photo: Malmö University

Malmö University’s Michael Krona is on the cutting-edge of research into the world of Isis propaganda. He reveals how genuinely impressive the terrorist organization’s media-wing is, and the surprises he has discovered along the way.

As a senior lecturer, Krona believes the university’s communication programme offers a unique approach that prepares graduates for this fast-paced, evolving field – a field where his finger is firmly on the pulse.

Having previously researched communication during the Arab Spring uprisings, Krona has more recently begun to analyse media activism and what can be achieved with technology – his specialist field within the English-language master’s programmes at Malmö University.

“I was surprised when studying activism as part of the communication field, because basically every contribution was very optimistic and romanticising about the role of technology, with people saying this can save the world,” he remarks.

“It was amazing that even scientists looked at technology as something that was a saviour. I started to look at it from a different perspective. And then Isis came into the middle of this, as one of the consequences of the failed Arab Spring revolutions.”


Photo: Malmö University

Krona began researching the phenomenon from a more critical perspective – showing that the same technology praised by many can be used in a more sinister fashion.

Terrorist group Isis, for example, has become a champion of sorts on Twitter and Facebook, using platforms developed by major Western corporations to spread its anti-Western rhetoric.

“I found it interesting that Isis came about – at least in public opinion – in just one night. The first thing the mainstream media started talking about was its use of social media, the same technology so closely connected to the democratic reforms in the Arab Spring,” he muses.

“It was very easy for us to relate to; if not for the social media factor I don’t think our interest would have blossomed that fast. Isis would have just been a distant organisation, but now it is a social media phenomenon that comes to us, that comes to our computers in our homes.”

In its Syrian heartland, Isis operates a seemingly comprehensive media-wing, composed of various communication departments.

It might be the graphic and brutal nature of the videos it produces which have been the focus of media attention, but Krona reveals the group has a far more nuanced approach, including high-quality output including magazines, radio productions, and podcasts.                               

“The video production itself is not very interesting, but in a wider context it is fascinating, and that differentiates them from any other organisation,” Krona explains.

“A lot of Westerners go through Turkey to Syria, people who worked in software technologies and film and television production.”

The professor confesses that he began his research with the thought that Isis was just about religious violence – but he has since realized things are more complicated.

“When you start looking at what they actually produce, it is so much more,” he says. “Violence is such a small percentage of the propaganda – it is about belonging, it is familiarity, it is happy children, it is paradise-like environments.”

So what does he think about Isis as an example of ‘best practices’ in media activism?

“It’s an unfortunate paradox,” he states. “I would argue that if you want to look at how to reach and target specific parts of your audience, look at Isis – they really are experts.”


Photo: Malmö University

Krona has dealt with criticism of his research, and says he sometimes gets accused of contributing to extremist agendas by studying and replicating their material. While he views such critique as a valid discussion, he does not agree.

“There is always a risk in highlighting an organization like Isis, even in academic research,” he acknowledges. “However, I believe we need more detailed knowledge on this socially mediated terrorism in order to develop efficient countermeasures.”

It is within the scope of media and communication studies to analyze and attempt to understand even the darker side of the role of technology, he adds.

“Extremist organisations use the same technologies as we do in everyday life.”

Media activism is part of the focus in Malmö University’s programme, along with media strategy and entrepreneurial ideas in the new master’s degree.

“I think activism in general, both in terms of fieldwork and research, is very prominent right now; it’s much debated,” Krona says. “Our students are drawn to our approach, and I don’t know of any other master’s programme that has it.”

Normally master’s programmes in communication are very traditional and connected to social sciences, but the approach at Malmö University is more closely related to the practical field of media and communication.

“We aim to prepare our students for the changing face of communication,” he says. “We prepare them for a working environment where they have the possibility to change and adapt to specific structures – that’s our vision.”

Find out more about Malmö University’s communication master’s programme here. See all international programmes and courses here.

More Malmö University stories on The Local

This article was produced in parternship with and sponsored by Malmö University.

 

EDUCATION

‘They feel conned’: Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules

Sweden's top universities are to call for doctoral students to be exempted from Sweden's tough new permanent residency rules, arguing that it will damage both academic standards and national competitiveness.

'They feel conned': Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules
At Lund Technical University, a majority of doctoral students are international. Photo: Kennet Ruona/LTU

In a post on Wednesday, Astrid Söderbergh Widding, the chair of Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions, said that Sweden’s universities had agreed to submit a joint letter to the government “very soon”, calling for parliament to put in place a special exemption for PHD students to make it easier to stay in Sweden after their studies. 

The parliament, she wrote, “should introduce an exemption for doctoral students and young researchers from the requirement to be financially self-sufficient”. 

Previously, doctoral students were eligible for a permanent residence permit if they had lived in Sweden with a residence permit for doctoral studies for four out of the past seven years. Apart from a slim set of requirements, this was granted more or less automatically.

But according to Sweden’s new Migration Act, which was introduced in July this year as comprehensive legislation to control the number of asylum applications, they now need to be able to additionally show that they can support themselves financially for at least a year and half.

The new law means that the rules for permanent residency are now the same for all categories of applicants, including doctoral students.

Stefan Bengtsson, the rector at Chalmers University of Technology, said that the change would mean as many as 400 to 500 doctoral students, many of whom have built up considerable expertise, might be unable to stay in Sweden.

“This makes for an uncertain future for those from outside of Europe who have applied to come to Sweden for an academic career, which is cause for great concern and disappointment among those who came here under other circumstances,” he told The Local. “Some of them may, of course, feel like they’ve been conned

But what was even more worrying, he said, would be the impact the change to the law might have in the longer term. 

“This change to the law could contribute to giving Sweden a bad reputation. This will create difficulties in recruiting internationally and damage our long-term skills supply.”

READ ALSO: 

At Lund University, the majority of doctoral students in the science and technical faculties are from outside Europe, while Söderbergh Widding, who is also vice chancellor at Stockholm University, estimated that about half of doctoral students were international. 

Söderbergh Widding told the TT newswire that the change was “a devastating death blow”, which put to waste a “previously hard-won battle to make it possible for doctoral students to obtain a permanent residency permit after four years of studies”. 

She said in her letter that the change contradicted the research policy proposition from December 2020, which stated that the “number of foreign doctoral students who stay in Sweden should increase”, and said that giving residency to doctoral students was a good way to increase this.  

Ole Petter Ottersen, the rector of the elite Karolinska medical university, told the newswire that he thought the change in residency laws would damage Swedish competitiveness. 

“This is not good for Sweden. This will damage our ability to attract and recruit talent from other countries. For a country that lies on the periphery, the goal should be to make it easier, not harder, to recruit competence.” 

SHOW COMMENTS