Why is the West not winning the war of words with ISIS and reclaiming the virtual landscape in which radical Islamists openly recruit? asks Jonathan Russell, head of policy for the anti-radicalization think tank Quilliam:
Firstly, governments are the dominant force in our collective counter-narrative sphere — but they are far from credible voices. …Governments are incapable of countering the ISIS concept of communications by themselves. ISIS messaging continuously mutates with different audiences, producing an average of 38 unique pieces of communications a day. In contrast governments are centralized, fraught with red-tape and lack the speed, aggression and energy that a devolved approach to communications requires.
Secondly, much of the strategy for defeating the ISIS message has revolved around the deployment of negative measures. Merely reporting, censoring and blocking ISIS leaves us short. Though the internet should be made more hostile to the kind of messages ISIS peddles, we will end up driving ISIS supporters underground when ideas go unchallenged. As the dark net proliferates, we may one day look back to this period of open jihadist messaging as the golden era for us to understand their narrative, counter it and make effective threat assessments. Time is of the essence.
A fundamental restructure is required if we are to win the war of words, he writes for CNN:
The male, pale and stale of Washington DC and Westminster cannot keep up with Snapchat, Telegram and Kik. …..The private marketing sector has have been delivering messaging campaigns through in-depth audience analysis for far longer than the government and can continue to do so when it comes to counter-extremism. Fuse those with civil society activists and not-for-profit organisations — who have the best track record in the development of counter-narrative and alternative narratives — and we have a winning formula.
By working in partnership, we can not only degrade the effectiveness of ISIS propaganda but also challenge the wider echo chamber that gives ISIS oxygen, a place where our messages have thus far failed to penetrate. This is a strategic approach to the digital counter-insurgency required to prevent radicalization online.
“Social media firms are key players when it comes to ensuring counter-messaging reaches the right parts of the online community. But simply placing counter-narratives into areas where extremists are unlikely to encounter them is a waste of money, brains and time,” Russell asserts.