Following the brutal beheading of 21 Coptic Christians, the global community responded with outrage, airstrikes and extensive media coverage, but far less attention has been afforded to the 103 people executed in Syria over the last 50 days, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported
Those executions, which were carried out by the Islamic State (ISIS), the al-Nusra Front and other radical Islamic terrorist groups, were not documented in highly stylized videos broadcast over YouTube, a fact that is seen as diminishing the shock value of the deaths.
Even less outrage has been expressed about the more than 2,000 Syrians who have perished in less-choreographed ways. For example, in the first week of February, Syrian government forces attacked rebel-held towns in Damascus, killing between 150 and 200 civilians in Ghouta, reports The Wall Street Journal.
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But those deaths were not videotaped, which might partly explain the lack of outrage.
"While the Islamic State's provocations draw pronounced reactions, however, the less-choreographed slaughter that has killed, for instance, more than 200,000 Syrians, fades to the background," writes Anne Barnard in The New York Times
"Of course, that is partly a matter of realpolitik. While Western governments decry Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, for his indiscriminate attacks on civilians, they do not view him as a threat on the order of the Islamic State, which is encouraging followers to launch lone-wolf attacks in the West. And it is partly because shock videos work," she concludes.
Eliciting shock is one explanation for the escalating brutality of ISIS.
"I think most Americans are not aware of how many beheadings are occurring each day. And ISIS has taken it to where they have almost devolved into a more primal form where they are literally doing — beheading like 50 people at a time and putting their heads on display," Dawn Perlmutter, director of the Symbol Intelligence Group, said in an August 2014 interview with National Public Radio
"Prior to ISIS, you didn't see children and women being beheaded either. So they have definitely changed the level of violence," Perlmutter said.
That ability to garner the attention of its targeted audience is one reason why ISIS' communications strategy has evolved into an elaborate production designed to draw the audience into their brutal world.
"Spectators who watch beheadings online impotently fulfill the perpetrators' desire to be seen. The ISIS murderers have relied on sophisticated manipulation of social media sites to ensure that their footage appears on our screens before we even know what we are watching.
"At the same time, a person's reaction can reverberate through the cyber-crowd instantaneously, creating the kind of group mentality that mirrors the dynamics of a real crowd," wrote Frances Larson, an honorary research fellow in anthropology at Durham University, in a recent CNN article
To counter the effectiveness of ISIS social media strategy, some human rights groups have started to mimic the terror group's videos, The Times reported in its article.
Recently, one anti-government group in Syria staged a scene amid the rubble of collapsed buildings in Damascus and told neighborhood children to dress in orange clothing, echoing the image of the Jordanian pilot who was burned alive. Then a man holding a burning torch asked the camera why the world has reacted to the pilot's death and not the deaths of Syrian children.
"I'm very sorry to get to this point, to use the kids," Baraa Abdulrahman, an anti-government activist who created the video, told The Times. "But this is the fact. Our kids are getting killed every day, every moment, getting under the wreckage."
He added: "These sights, people now are used to them."
The potential of the audience to become numb to the violence is why some contend that magnifying the suffering of Syrian civilians is not the right approach to attract the attention of the international community.
"One of the things about traumatic imagery is that it can numb us and render us passive and helpless. That is part of the gain for those who are producing these videos: They want to inspire fear and helplessness," Gavin Rees, the Europe director for the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, told The Times.
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