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Mass Media and Persuasion: Evidence-based Lessons for Strategic Communications in CVE

Mass Media and Persuasion: Evidence-based Lessons for Strategic Communications in CVE
21st July 2022 ICSR Team
In Features, XCEPT

The full Briefing Note can be accessed here.

Please read on for the Key Findings.

Mass media persuasion by itself rarely, if ever, works at changing people’s foundational beliefs or values – but it can change their behaviour.

  • Research shows that mass media alone has no measurable effect on belief change. Trying to change supporters or members of groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda’s beliefs or values via mass media tools alone is not likely to work.
  • Mass media can change behaviour by changing perceptions of social norms. When people perceive that their
    behaviours are out of step with the norms of their group they adjust to the norms. Social norm interventions through mass media can reduce willingness to join terrorist groups like ISIS or Al Qaida.
  • Mass persuasion can increase the commitment to already held beliefs. Research shows that mass media which “preaches to the choir” can increase action-orientation. ISIS propaganda can inspire passive supporters into action. Conversely, CVE mass media efforts can inspire those with anti-ISIS sentiments to increase their activism.


If belief change is the goal, such as in deradicalisation, person-to-person interaction is required, though mass media can augment efforts.

  • Credible messengers dialoguing with someone can make that person change political sides, convert religions, or join/leave an extremist group. Deradicalisation requires person-to-person dialogue, not mass media.
  • Credible messengers have two perceived qualities: authority and benevolence. The target of the belief-change message has to think that the messenger knows more about the subject than they do (authority) and that the messenger’s incentives are aligned with the target’s best-interests (benevolence). These are the qualities that people who seek to deradicalise ISIS members must be perceived as possessing.
  • People change core beliefs because they want to leave their current group for another group. Belief change is the cost of entry to the other group. In order to deradicalise someone you have to offer them an alternative group which appeals to them. The credible messenger should be a member of that group.


This publication was produced as part of the XCEPT programme, a programme funded by UK Aid from the UK government. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK government’s official policies.

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