Fighting Propaganda with Propaganda

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It use to be that the U.S. was the undisputed propaganda leader outside of China and the former USSR.  But, today, young recruits are being drawn to the Islamic state using social media in record numbers and these recruite are becoming younger and younger.  A recent article in Wall Street Journal details this fact and tells readers that the U.S. for now is losing the social media propaganda game.  Witness the case of Akhror Saidakhmetov being arraigned in the photo above.  This young defendant appears to have been inspired by a video of Islamic State executions of Iraqi soldiers on an Uzbek-language website.

Fortunately, the U.S. has by necessity become more sophisticated in tracking and monitoring these social media conversations.  As the head of the FBI’s counterterrorims division Michael Steibach said:

“The ability of sympathizers, recruits to use social media effectively in a concern for us. You find the trend over the last year or so has been a decreasing age group that are being recruited — both male and female.”

Law enforcement at the Federal, state and local level have increased staffing to track social media sites like Twitter and niche, extremist focused sites but it is a tall order, says the Wall Street Journal.  This is very difficult, time and resource-consuming when you consider that over 500 million messages are posted just on Twitter every day.  Yet, this monitoring is the best place to intercepts conversations, because the initial recruitment happens on mainstream sites like Twitter.

The long-term implications of these developments are scary and worse.  This week Matt and I explored how social media impacts values and vice versa.  Religion, we surmised, is one of the most important influences on values.  It leads to passionate responses on all sides of a religious debate.  The U.S. will need to become muc more effective in counter-propaganda to win the social media battle. The question is how can U.S. law enforcement harness these passions for the good of society rather than its destruction?

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