Senators On Jihad 2.0: We'll Take Down ISIS With 'Fancy Memes'

from the retweet-if-you-think-terrorism-should-be-stopped dept

Al-Qaida has been replaced by ISIS at the focal point of counterterrorism efforts. When legislators talk about fighting terrorism, they talk about taking on ISIS. ISIS, like any other organization out there, has used social media platforms to spread its message. Whether or not its efforts have been more successful than previous like-minded organizations hasn’t really been quantified, but for sheer shock value, it has every other terrorist outfit beat.

Because images and recordings of its atrocities have spread through the internet with amazing speed and ease, it’s tempting to view ISIS as a group of digital natives — people whose entire life has been filled with some sort of internet outlet for sociable sharing. The group seems to contain much sought after viral power, but that’s likely due to its audience spending an increasing amount of time viewing the world through a browser, rather than through nightly news reports and morning papers.

The perception is the truth and a few US senators are seeking to counteract ISIS’s viral power by utilizing the same playing fields. This may be a good idea, but it’s also providing for some inadvertent hilarity as legislators put two and two together and get Voice of America: Buzzfeed edition.

“There’s an obvious piece of legislation that we need to start working on,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., said during a Homeland Security Committee hearing on “Jihad 2.0“.

“Let’s face it: We invented the Internet. We invented the social network sites. We’ve got Hollywood. We’ve got the capabilities… to blow these guys out of the water from the standpoint of communications.”

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., backed his colleague’s appeal. “Look at their fancy memes compared to what we’re not doing,” Booker said, displaying examples of jihadist online postings.

This doesn’t bode well. The average member of America’s governing bodies may generally find the use of the adjective “fancy” to still be perfectly normal, but the internet battlefield they’re wishing to enter has never combined the words “fancy” and “meme” before. Booker’s youth puts him in shouting distance of digital natives, but his clumsy phrasing could not have separated him further from the hearts and minds he’s wishing to conquer.

Booker does raise valid points, though. There is some value in deploying counterpropaganda using the same communications channels. He later lamented the “millions” being spent on tools of dubious effectiveness, like Voice of America.

There are ways to deter potential ISIS sympathizers and recruits, but the US is engaged in roughly none of them. A constant military presence that alternated between surges and drone strikes isn’t likely to result in fence-sitters opting for the American way. What’s worse is the FBI’s ongoing Grow Your Own Terrorist!™ program, which has succeeded in saving the world from a collection of “terrorists” whose only criminal act was playing along with undercover agents’ suggestions in exchange for the occasional self-esteem boost. As a result of these so-called sting operations, those who could actually use help in dissuading friends or family members from being swayed by ISIS’s message are instead keeping their concerns to themselves.

[National security expert Peter Bergen] noted that Muslim families who see a son or daughter radicalizing online are deterred from reporting the matter to the FBI out of fear that he or she will be thrown in jail for more than a decade.

When the purchase of plane tickets to certain nations is construed as “providing material support” for terrorism, there’s something wrong with the system.

This isn’t meant to be a total and preemptive condemnation of potential US efforts to engage ISIS on the digital battlefield. The problem is that the government is the entity least likely to do this effectively, seeing as it’s largely unused to deploying anything with subtlety or agility. That it’s calling on Hollywood to help it with its counterterrorism efforts is also a bit concerning, considering it conjures up images of Uncle Sam running a propaganda mill out of a studio backlot. Not only will this do little to sway potential ISIS sympathizers, but it’s also apt to turn more citizens against their government, even if they agree that ISIS is a worthwhile target.

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Comments on “Senators On Jihad 2.0: We'll Take Down ISIS With 'Fancy Memes'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

This Is Your Brain On Terrorism

Governments invariably farm out their IP creation work through committees, and they almost invariably follow the rule that what got approved yesterday will get approved today. Are we to be burdened with such gems as

Just say no to terrorism.

Would you download a terrorist?

If history is any guide, the response will be “I am laughing in your general direction.”

Ninja (profile) says:

I’m having fun thinking about what would come out from a joint venture from the Govt and Hollywood. In terms of speed it would be like a fusion between a snail and s paraplegic turtle and in terms of innovation it would be akin to the discovery of the fire minus the fire.

Then I remembered all those educational “you wouldn’t steal a car” videos and laughed.

Jade Sherman Helmsley says:

It is a great idea, just poorly expressed. All these religious nutjobs are so uptight that they are ripe for skewering. But we can’t expect hollywood to do it, it needs to be done by people who have cultural literacy in those societies. Guys like people who put on the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour would be a start, but we should also cultivate local talent in the middle east. The CIA funded the modern art movement to show soviet citizens what couldn’t happen under authoritarian rule. 90% of it was pretentious bullshit but the total price was a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of the cold war in total.

Anonymous Coward says:

it’s tempting to view ISIS as a group of digital natives — people whose entire life has been filled with some sort of Internet outlet for sociable sharing.

Just because they post on the Internet, and run a few forums/recruiting sites, does not mean that ISIS frequents any other place on the Internet. This will end up like the anti-piracy efforts, annoying people who are decent citizens, and having no impact on the terrorists and those susceptible to radicalization.

Personanongrata says:

Domestic Dissemination Of Propaganda, Oh My!

When congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 there was an amendment attached called:

The Smith Mondt Modernization Act of 2012 explicitly allows the US government to disseminate propaganda produced by US sources (eg State Department, Broadcasting Board of Governors) previously for international use domestically.

Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012

The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012[35] was introduced by U.S. Congressman Mac Thornberry on May 10, 2012 in the House of Representatives.[35] The bill purpose is “to authorize the domestic dissemination of information and material about the United States intended primarily for foreign audiences”[35] The act was added to the 2013 NDAA bill as section of 1078 to amend certain passages of Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1987.[36] The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 passed Congress as part of the NDAA 2013 on December 28, 2012.[36] Amendments made to the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1987 allow for materials produced by the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to be released within US borders.[37][38][39] U.S. Congressmen Adam Smith stated with the respect to the bill’s purpose that al-Qaeda was infiltrating the Internet in order to promote anti-American sentiments and that with passage of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 the US government would be able disseminate public diplomacy information by the State department to counter that in the Arabic language abroad.[40][41]

Several news outlets reported that the 2013 NDAA overturned a 64-year ban on the domestic dissemination of propaganda (described as “public diplomacy information”) produced for foreign audiences, effectively eliminating the distinction between foreign and domestic audiences.[42][43][44][45] The social news media site BuzzFeed for example quoted an unnamed source saying the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 would allow “U.S. propaganda intended to influence foreign audiences to be used on the domestic population.”[44]

The news in the US that so many believe is based upon factual reporting of events may simply be propaganda and Americans have no way of knowing short of sourcing the information disseminated themselves.

What a wonderful government. Looking out for it’s citizens best interests by putting forth propaganda as fact. Why? Because it is politically expedient to lie rather than tell the truth when the government and it’s agents responsible for the nations well being have collectively sold it’s citizens down the river for generations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Didn’t the US Government create ISIS by invading and overthrowing the governments in Iraq and Syria. Doesn’t ISIS stand for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria?

I mean, if I wanted advice on how to grow ISIS. The Senators would be my goto advisers. They have a proven track record since 9/11 on growing Islamic extremists.

If I wanted advise on how to shrink ISIS. The Senators would be the last people I would look to for advise.

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