What Happened When I Watched Too Many ISIS Videos

Illustrative picture. (Photo: © Hillary/Creative Commons)

I am a researcher in this field. In this capacity I have watched many ISIS videos, dozens at least but to be honest I have lost count. I am also ISIS’ target recruitment demographic, a young male who grew up in the West, with a keen sense of injustice and an awareness of the flaws of the current stage of western civilization.

As I watched increasing numbers of ISIS videos for work, I noticed they were starting to have an effect on my mind. Because of this I stopped watching them.

There is plenty of information available online about the psychological impact of violent imagery on those who view it.  This is my own personal account of the changes I noticed and I am sharing them to warn readers of the powerful effect these videos had on me, despite the fact that I am totally opposed to the ideology espoused by these videos.

I was personally shocked by the intensity of the impact. Here’s what happened to me.

 

I Became Rapidly Desensitized

The first time a watched a beheading video it was horrible, sickening and awful. Every part of the image is designed to shock and horrify. My heart rate would quicken, I would wince and look away. But after I while, I noticed I was less and less shocked and was able to watch them more and more easily.

One day I watched one of the clips and felt nothing at all. At this point I had watched too many clips to count. I was simply numb to the fact that a human being was being murdered in the video I was watching. I had no physical reaction and no emotional one.

The callousness of my own response terrified me and that was the last ISIS video I watched.

 

I Began to Have Violent Mood Swings

Things that had previously not bothered me in my daily life began to anger me. I became more irritable and quicker to anger. I found myself shouting in rage when my dog was pulling on the lead, or when I dropped something in the house, reactions which were out of proportion to the incident that had occurred. They were also much more severe than the reactions I had had to comparable events prior to watching so many ISIS videos.

After I stopped watching the videos (some months ago at this point), my mood swings gradually subsided, leading me to strongly suspect they were linked to the videos.

 

I Had Vivid, Graphic, Violent, Fantasies

This was the most shocking to me. When I felt I had been wronged by someone, instead of merely being annoyed or upset or even furious, my rage manifested itself in a very different way. My mind was flooded with extremely vivid, powerful and specific images of violent acts of revenge. These pictures would rush in very suddenly, accompanied by physiological changes such as increased heart rate, inability to stay still, clenched fists etc. I had to catch myself and force myself to calm down and was shocked by the speed and strength of my own fury.

I have, of course, been angry before. What was different about this was how vivid, specific and ultraviolent the revenge fantasies were and how swiftly they rushed into my mind. They were unlike any anger I have experienced before.

Once I stopped watching the videos, these graphic images stopped.

 

I had not expected watching ISIS videos to have such an impact on both my ability to watch increasing quantities of violent footage while feeling less and less. I had certainly not expected it to impact my temper in the way that it did. It is interesting that a colleague who is both a little older and a woman did not experience comparable reactions despite watching comparable amounts of footage. What I am reporting here is simply my own experience and another person’s experience may be quite different.

My conclusion, from my own experiences, is that the mere act of watching these videos has an impact on the way the brain responds to violence, regardless of any level of accepting or understanding the ISIS ideology.

I would argue that is especially harmful for young men, under the influence of testosterone, to watch.