What to call the militant group that has taken control of large parts of Syria and Iraq has long been a tricky question. Early on, it was most common to call it the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but the group later announced they were re-branding as simply Islamic State (IS), a name many news organisations have since adopted. The Obama administration, however, has continued to refer to them as ISIL – the acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – while the French government recently announced they were dropping Islamic State in favour of Daesh, a name the militants themselves reportedly hate. In the United Kingdom, major news organisations now use ISIS or Islamic State, though a spokesman for the Prime Minister recently used ISIL.
YouGov asked people in Britain and the United States to pick the “best” name for news organisations to use from a list of eight possibilities, and the findings show the issue is far from settled.
There is especially little agreement among British people: Islamic State is the favorite, but even so, only 20% want news organisations to use that term. 16% pick ISIS, 10% pick the Un-Islamic State – a name recommended by a group of British imams seeking to disassociate the group from Islam – and 26% don’t know which of the eight options provided is best.
Americans are in more agreement: half think the media should call the group ISIS. Only 6% want ISIL, the Barack Obama’s preferred term, to be used, the same number as want IS or Islamic State used.
Hardly anyone in either country recommends Daesh.
News organisations now mix up the acronyms and full wording of the names. The New York Times and The Guardian, for instance, both use a form of ISIS as shorthand, but begin articles by referring to the group as the Islamic State.
When it comes to the criteria news organisations should use when deciding what to call a terrorist group, only about a third of Americans or British people think the group’s own preference should be accepted without scrutiny.
Greater numbers in both countries opt for “the most accurate description” even if it is not the name the group uses to refer to themselves, and another 13% of British people and 7% of Americans recommend using a “deliberately offensive” term.