US public diplomacy experts have warned that the government may not be doing enough to counter the Islamic State’s growing online presence.
The Islamic State is widely regarded as the most successful terrorist group of the social media age. Its presence on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter dwarf any of the group’s predecessors, as it actively recruits supporters with grisly propaganda videos.
The al-Qaeda offshoot made headlines this summer when it circulated three high-quality videos that showed the beheadings of three Western civilians: American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and British aid worker David Haines.
American officials are working to counter the Islamic State’s influence electronically with a number of initiatives designed to discredit the rogue caliphate online, the Guardian reported.
The most noticeable effort has been the US’s “Think Again, Turn Away” campaign, headed by a State Department office called the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications.
The campaign is a calculated offensive — meant to discourage potential recruits from joining the Islamic State — that produced videos casting the jihadists currently fighting in Iraq and Syria in a negative, anti-Muslim light.
One video uploaded to the account is titled “Welcome to the ‘Islamic State’ land (ISIS/ISIL)” and rapidly displays a series of graphic images of Islamic State fighters blowing up mosques and killing civilians with accompanying text and brooding music.
But not everyone thinks the official efforts are worthwhile.
The American government has been accused of “trolling” the social media accounts of Islamic State members and arguing with them on a variety of online forums.
“I honestly don’t think the government should be in the position of directly engaging jihadis on Twitter. It’s a silly game,” contended Shahed Amanullah, a former State Department employee who left to help to establish programs promoting anti-extremist Muslim voices abroad.
“[The] tragedy of the US government’s attempts to engage online,” Amanullah said, is that “there’s nothing these people like more than to see the US government specifically acknowledging and interacting with them online. They turn right around to their followers and say, ‘See? We’re every bit as powerful as we say we are, the US government is proof.’”