[guest post by Dana]
Well, someone had a strategy of sorts: In what is being dubbed a social media offensive against ISIS and Al-Qaeda, the U.S. State Dept. has taken unique steps to win the war of ideas through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Officials understand the limits of such a campaign, but they also see “social media as an increasingly crucial battlefield as they aim to turn young minds in the Muslim world against groups like IS and Al-Qaeda.” U.S. officials are targeting the social network accounts of Islamic extremists and engaging in “tit-for-tat” exchanges, as well as mocking and ridiculing the radicals:
A senior US State Department official described the strategy as a kind of cyber guerrilla campaign.
“It is not a panacea, it is not a silver bullet,” the official explained. “People exaggerate, people think this is worthless or they think it a magic thing that will make the extremists surrender. It is neither one of those. It is slow, steady, daily engagement pushing back on a daily basis.
“It is a war of thousands of skirmishes, but no big battles. America likes big battles but it is not — it is like guerrilla warfare,” said the official.”
The U.S. is using any means it can to push back:
The US-managed Twitter accounts are also not squeamish about reproducing images distributed by jihadists depicting mass executions, drawing historic parallels between Islamic State militants and the Nazis.
One post showed armed Islamic State fighters standing over a ditch filled with executed people, alongside another almost identical image of Nazis killing people in similar circumstances.
“Then & Now: Nazis – like ISIS – murdered out of intolerance, hatred, zeal,” read a comment alongside the two images.
Satire is also used to undermine militants, with one re-tweeted cartoon referring to the “ISIS bucket challenge” featuring a participant named as “the civilized world” being drenched by a bucket of blood.
The US officials say the social media offensive is an attempt to “contest space” on social networks which had previously been dominated by Islamist radicals.
“This is an area, a field, where before we came along the adversaries had this space to themselves,” the official explained.
“You had English language extremists that could say any kind of poison and there will be very low push-back against them,” he added. The ultimate aim is to make youths in the West or Muslim nations think twice before embarking on a journey to Syria or Iraq to join Islamic State fighters.
US officials are also mindful of striking the right tone as they troll Islamists.
“Twitter is unfortunately or fortunately a platform which is suitable for what we call snark, sarcasm, for insulting people,” the official said. “This is something also we are trying to do, we try to attack.
“We are respectful about things, the loss of human life of innocent people, victims of AQ or victims of ISIS, that is not something for sarcasm.
“But when you are mocking them, it is effective to draw the comparison between what they say and what they do. The hypocrisy of this group is a weakness.”
Meanwhile, the president took a break from developing a strategy to deal with ISIS and reassured donors at a fundraiser in Newport, Rhode Island about concerns of a threat from ISIS:
“We have to be vigilant,” he told the group of donors, “but this doesn’t immediately threaten the homeland.”